School Improvement in Maryland
Biology-Instructional Strategies

The science test committees believe that it is important for students to have hands-on experience performing laboratory experiments in class and, therefore, that laboratory work is a presumed pre-requisite to the High School Assessment (H.S.A.) Program science tests. This laboratory component is based on the ideas that science is a hands-on, minds-on activity and that these activities will help students understand concepts and make connections between the sciences and their daily lives. If students are to make science an important experience in their lives, they must actively participate in the process of science. In order to be scientifically literate, students must learn to:

  • formulate hypotheses,
  • design experiments,
  • collect and interpret data, and
  • use appropriate equipment and technology.

They must learn to make connections to other areas of science and mathematics, effectively communicate the information they have gathered, and argue their conclusions persuasively. Students can learn these skills if they are able to participate in a variety of laboratory exercises.

Laboratory work should be designed to help students discover the concepts embodied in the Core Learning Goals, enrich their learning experiences, and bring Maryland schools to the forefront of science education. This approach will raise the standards of teacher training, and it will modernize science classrooms by providing a baseline for equipment and reagents.

At the core of the laboratory component is a series of concepts that are essential to each of the science disciplines. These concepts might, for example, be developed from the indicators in each Core Learning Goal. The concepts would be a series of statements that not only help to define what the laboratory work will accomplish, but the statements might also act as ways to evaluate what the students have accomplished. (For example, teachers might include in a lesson plan: "After completing this laboratory, students will be able to describe how the rate of an enzyme-mediated reaction is related to environmental temperature.")

The laboratory exercises are intended to teach concepts, but these concepts can be reached through a variety of activities. Although suggested activities are included in the Core Learning Goals and in some of the individual test specifications, these activities are not the only ways to accomplish the goals.

The H.S.A. science tests will not evaluate the procedures used in the laboratory experiments. Instead, they will evaluate the student's knowledge of laboratory concepts. For example, students might be asked to form conclusions based on data from a laboratory experiment, or they might be asked to explain a concept using examples from their laboratory experience. It would also be reasonable to ask students to design an experimental procedure to test a particular concept. Students would not be asked to recall the results of an investigation or to describe a specific procedure.

Adapted from “Specifications for the Maryland HSAs in Science”, Designing End-of Course High School Assessments, ETS Report to MSBE, 1997