Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2016

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)


Science and Mathematics Education


Michael C. Wittmann

Second Committee Member

Eric Pandiscio

Third Committee Member

MacKenzie R. Stetzer


Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education has become a national priority in light of measures indicating marginal student interest and success in the United States. Just as evidence is integral to policy decisions, so too do teachers depend on evidence to inform instructional choices. Classroom assessment remains a touchstone means of gathering such evidence as indicators of students’ progress, and increasingly, teachers are designing, implementing, and interpreting assessments in collaboration with one another.

In rural Maine, the work of the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP) has enabled science educators to come together as a supportive professional community. We focused on a team of MainePSP teachers as they developed common assessments for a unit on force and motion concepts. During group discussions individual members vetted their own ideas about acceleration comprising the following perspectives: a) terminology used to describe acceleration, b) the sign of acceleration as an indicator of speeding up or slowing down, and c) the sign of acceleration as an indicator of direction, dependent on the change in both the magnitude and direction of velocity. The latter two ideas could be in agreement (when motion is in the positive direction) or conflict (when motion is in the negative direction). With objectives to accomplish and limited time, the team opted to only include an item about motion in the positive direction, leaving the inconsistencies of their ideas unresolved. As a result, the assessment lacked the ability to provide sufficient evidence of which idea students might hold.

We examined the group’s interactions as captured by video recording and employed basic qualitative methods to analyze the event as a case study. Our findings suggest that an incomplete understanding of acceleration limited the teachers’ ability to resolve their initial conflict. Further, the item’s susceptibility for students to provide correct answers for the wrong reasons was not recognized at the time. We consider the item’s implications on teachers interpreting student assessment responses, masking a potential need for adjusted instruction by teachers and conceptual refinement by students. Finally, we discuss the pedagogical implications and limitations of this study.