Light and Dark Formative Assessment Probe

Page Keeley
Type Category
Assessment Materials
Assessment Item
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This is one of 25 assessment probes from the book,” Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science, Volume 1: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes”, by Page Keeley. All assessment probes in this collection are aligned to a particular science concept and field-tested by several teachers in classes of diverse student backgrounds. The “Light and Dark” formative assessment probe elicits student ideas about the relationships among photosynthesis, respiration, and light in plants. The probe presents statements from five fictitious students who are discussing whether plants carry out photosynthesis and respiration under conditions of light and dark. The probe might be used to reveal student ideas before, during, or after instruction on the processes of photosynthesis and respiration. The probe might also be paired with a demonstration or investigation in which students collect empirical evidence to support their response to the probe. An assessment probe is a purposefully designed, multi-grade level question that asks students to provide a two-part response. Part one consists of a selected response, and part two asks students to provide an explanation. This format helps teachers identify students’ existing ideas about phenomena or concepts, which can help inform further instruction. Assessment probes can also be used to engage students, encourage thinking, and promote sharing of ideas. When implementing probes in the classroom, the authors suggest using the probe to encourage teacher-student, student-teacher, and student-student feedback on learning. Each probe is accompanied by teacher notes that include information on the purpose of the probe, related science concepts, an explanation of all answer choices, curricular and instructional considerations, suggestions for administering the probe, related standards (National Science Education Standards, 1996), related ideas in Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993), related research, description of common student misconceptions, suggestions for instruction and assessment, and related NSTA science store publications and journal articles.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Elementary School
  • Middle School
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-3 Construct and revise an explanation based on evidence for the cycling of matter and flow of energy in aerobic and anaerobic conditions.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on conceptual understanding of the role of aerobic and anaerobic respiration in different environments.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the specific chemical processes of either aerobic or anaerobic respiration.

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This assessment probe can serve as one component in a series of learning activities that lead the students to develop an explanation on how matter is cycled and how energy flows during photosynthesis and respiration. The probe elicits students’ ideas on some of the basic concepts that would serve as the basis for such an explanation. The explanation involves three ideas: (1) that light provides energy for photosynthesis, (2) that products of photosynthesis provide the energy for respiration, and (3) that molecules like oxygen and carbon dioxide cycle between these two processes. The probe might be used to draw out students’ prior knowledge at the beginning of the instructional sequence or to check for misconceptions later on during instruction.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In science and in the classroom, the practice of engaging in argument from evidence will often precede the development of a generally accepted explanation for a phenomenon. In this case, asking students to evaluate the five claims given in the probe and to justify their selected claim will support students in clarifying their own ideas about the processes of photosynthesis and respiration. To take full advantage of this learning opportunity, teachers will need to engage students in small-group and/or whole-class discussions of the various claims and underlying processes. By administering a probe at the beginning and during instruction, the teacher is making student thinking explicit as students inquire about a specific phenomenon. It is helpful to invest the time to allow all student ideas to be made public, e.g. by posting the answer choices on a chart in front of the class and engaging students in a discussion of the justifications for each of the choices. This creates a culture of learning, where individuals’ ideas are valued in contrast to the “correct” answer. Encouraging students to discuss the different answers and justification with a partner or in small group, or as a class, supports the development of productive talk in the science classroom. It encourages students to take risks, listen carefully to each other, and encourages the learner to continue to reflect on their own learning as the lesson unfolds, and thus promotes a safe classroom environment, building a community of learners.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The probe implicitly connects energy conversion and cellular processes, but teachers will need to provide additional learning experiences to allow students to make this connection more explicitly. This probe calls for students to differentiate between the processes of photosynthesis and respiration and to analyze the role of light in these processes. When used at the beginning of a lesson, the probe will elicit students’ prior knowledge and provide a basis for teachers to develop or work toward changing students’ ideas. This might occur within discussions of the probe or in subsequent learning activities. This probe does not address anaerobic processes, and these would need to be addressed in other learning activities.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
A student would be able to answer the probe without necessarily discussing the cycling of matter between the plant and its environment. Therefore, the teacher would need to draw out this connection in classroom discussions and subsequent learning activities. Keeley provides an interesting discussion starter for this topic in her teacher notes. She mentions that at one time hospital staff removed plants from patient rooms during the night to ensure adequate oxygen supply for the patients. This anecdote could provide a good point of departure for a discussion of the conversions of matter that occur during photosynthesis and respiration.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This assessment probe builds on the claim-evidence-reasoning framework and asks students to evaluate multiple claims before identifying and supporting what they believe to be the most valid claim. Therefore, the probe makes a strong connection to the practice dimension of the NGSS. The connections to the DCI and CCC are weaker and will require the teacher to strengthen these connections through class discussions and in additional learning activities.

  • Instructional Supports: The probe presents a phenomenon that should be familiar to students. However, having students make observations and collect data in a live investigation might enhance the learning experience. The accompanying teacher notes provide good content background, a progression of student understanding from elementary to middle school to high school, common misconceptions, and suggestions for implementation. The notes provide general background information that will help the teacher respond to various student ideas.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The teacher notes discuss expected student understanding at different grade bands but not at different levels of understanding within those grade bands, and a rubric is not provided. High school teachers may wish to modify the probe to elicit more directly students’ ideas on matter and energy transformations during photosynthesis and respiration. This might bolster the connections of the probe to the DCI and CCC. This probe should provide information that will be useful in the teacher’s efforts to plan and adjust instruction. However, the teacher notes do not give specific guidance on this.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not a technology-based resource. However, the probe could be administered through online technologies (e.g., Google Forms), which would facilitate the teacher’s ability to analyze and respond to class-level data generated through this assessment.