primary science

Working scientifically

Challenges that are particular to science include the assessment of processes and skills that, when performed together, can lead to a child ‘working scientifically’. The complexity of this concept (for example there isn’t a single way or format to follow to achieve ‘working scientifically’) means that valid assessment is multifaceted.

Broad principles

The broad principles of assessment are transferable across the subjects taught in primary school –key elements such as formative assessment and feedback are likely to have an impact on learning in many contexts (Hattie 2008).


In the context of primary science, manageable assessment can be understood as that which can be conducted by classroom teachers within the constraints and available support.


The classic way of defining the validity of an assessment tool is the extent to which it measures what it was designed to measure. For example, a test of science knowledge should not depend on reading skill. However validity is not a fixed property of an assessment tool. It can be seen as an appraisal of the quality of the interpretations and decisions that are made on the basis assessment – valid assessments can be strongly justified by reference to evidence of learning.


In the context of assessment, an assessment tool which consistently and accurately measures learning across a range of contexts is said to be reliable. Reliable assessment tools (such as exams) would be repeatable across time (year to year) and space (school to school). No assessment tool is entirely reliable.

Formative assessment

Often called ‘Assessment for learning’ and involving a range of techniques and strategies typically used by teachers in the classroom day-to-day to gauge how well a learner is progressing, to identify any misconceptions or difficulties the learner is having (also known as diagnostic assessment) and to identify what to teach next (‘next steps’). It aims to promote better learning and improve the effectiveness of teaching. Usually it uses processes such as self-assessment, peer-assessment, feedback, moderation and dialogue between teachers and learners.

Summative assessment

Assessment of learning that summarises attainment or performance at a particular moment, usually by comparison or measurement (by assigning a grade or level) against a standard or benchmark. Often described by teachers as ‘end of unit’ or ‘end of year’; or assessment which fulfils a summarising purpose, e.g. to be passed onto the next teacher or put into the school tracking software.

Approaches to assessment in primary science

Key question for teachers: How can formative assessment lead to reliable, valid and manageable summative assessment for the whole school?

Assessment in Primary Science


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