The SAILS Framework for Inquiry and Assessment addresses two main questions: what to assess and how to assess? It defines the range of inquiry skills and competencies addressed within the SAILS project for learning in science and discusses assessment and its purpose within the context of an inquiry classroom. Based on established research into cognition and assessment, it provides illustrative examples of classroom based assessment practices applied across the sciences.

SAILS diagram

Inquiry Skills and Competencies

Inquiry skills are what learners use to make sense of the world around them. Inquiry approaches can help students develop deep conceptual understanding and encourage engagement with science. Inquiry approaches provide both the impetus and experience that helps students acquire problem solving and lifelong learning skills. These skills are important so that all citizens may make informed and reasoned decisions. Within the SAILS project, inquiry in the science classroom is understood to be the intentional process of providing opportunities where students are actively involved in diagnosing problems, critiquing experiments and distinguishing alternatives, planning investigations, researching conjectures, searching for information, constructing models, debating with peers, and forming coherent arguments. In carrying out this project, SAILS has focussed on supporting the development of four inquiry skills (developing hypotheses, working collaboratively, forming coherent arguments, planning investigations) as well as the competencies of scientific reasoning and scientific literacy.

Assessment Practices

In classrooms, the role of assessment is to support and encourage student learning. Assessment within the inquiry classroom offers richer possibilities, both in terms of inquiry skills and competencies as well as methods to assess. Inquiry learning is an active and constructivist process thus assessment feedback should be integrated into this. Assessment of IBSE skills and competencies requires teachers to be able to use a variety of tools to determine where students are in their learning. From these data, they can make judgements that can help the student to decide on the next step in learning, and so guide them towards improvement. The SAILS Framework for Inquiry and Assessment considers the assessment and feedback in terms of what is assessed, when is it assessed and by whom is the assessment carried out.

SAILS Inquiry & Assessment Units

Through a dynamic collaboration between SAILS partners and teachers, nineteen SAILS Inquiry and Assessment Units have been developed which showcase the benefits of adopting inquiry approaches in classroom practice, exemplify how assessment practices are embedded in inquiry lessons and illustrate the variety of assessment opportunities and /or assessment processes available to science teachers. These units provide evidence that each inquiry skill and competence can be readily assessed. In particular, the units provide clear examples of how inquiry skills can be assessed, alongside content knowledge, scientific literacy and scientific reasoning and highlight the benefits of various types of assessments. The SAILS Framework for Inquiry and Assessment includes illustrative examples from the SAILS Inquiry and Assessment Units.