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Definitions of Key Concepts

1. The grouping (clustering) of students that share some trait. For example, reporting the performance of only girls in a class, or of groups of girls and boys separately. This type of aggregation serves to help us understand performance within subgroups.

2. The traditional/conventional process of combining ratings or test items in order to return a single (aggregate) number (typically a weighted sum) that is intended to reflect performance or quality. This type of aggregation provides a simpler or more compact view of the data, but sacrifices the detail necessary to inform instructional planning and educational improvement decisions in general.

The process of examining student performance to identify that student's levels of attainment of specified learning goals. In other words, assessment establishes the extent to which learning goals have been attained. Simply, assessment is whatever is done in order to identify the extent of achievement of learning goals. Assessment, as a noun, refers to the results of such a process.

Core Capabilities
Capabilities which have the power to improve success in concurrent and subsequent learning as well as in applications of learning to the world outside of school. For example, reasoning with ratios and proportions is a core capability foundational to success in mathematics, science, and technology, as well as everyday life.

A set of learning goals that are to be attained through an educational course or program.

(See ‘aggregation’.)

In the domain of assessment, efficiency has to do with obtaining the best possible information for the least time and effort invested. An assessment which is educative (that is, students learn from experiencing it) provides instructional efficiency as well.

In the domain of instruction, efficiency refers to attaining learning goals with the least expenditure of instructional time and resources.

In the domain of curriculum, efficiency can be construed as focusing on the learning goals that have the greatest potential for transferability and application (see ‘core capabilities’).

Evaluation refers to the inferences, conclusions and recommendations stemming from the rigorous examination of educational programs and their outcomes. Success of educational programs is most appropriately measured by examining the degree to which targeted learning goals have been attained and efficiency in attaining those goals.

Formative Assessment
Assessments conducted at the outset and during instruction, usually for the purpose of informing instructional planning.

The assignment of letters or numbers which represent student performance. This is not the same as the assessment of the degree to which a student has attained a well defined capability. Frequently people become confused about the distinction between these two processes.

Higher Order Thinking
Thinking capabilities characterized by the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain ( Application or higher). See Bloom, B.S. (Ed.), Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., & Krathwohl, D.R. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives – The Classification of Educational Goals . New York: David McKay Company, Inc.

Whatever is done directly or indirectly to support the attainment of learning goals.

Knowledge, Dispositions, and Skills
We find it a useful organizing principle to organize learning goals into these three categories:
Knowledge refers to mental constructs by means of which we organize our experience of the world. Examples include ‘density’, ‘democracy’, ‘truth’ and ‘error’.
Dispositions are the human characteristics that are often designated broadly as the affective domain of learning. Examples include values, motivation, desires, principles, ideals, habits, interest, intent, curiosity.
Skills are activities that are targeted as learning goals. Examples include the ability to write coherent paragraphs, the ability to reason with proportions, the ability to use colors to create depth in a painting, the ability to sing a song.

Learning Goals
Often called ‘educational goals', ‘educational objectives' ‘intended learning outcomes’ or ‘instructional objectives.' Often the term ‘goals' is used for the more general goals and the term ‘objectives' used for more specific goals. We have found the following distinctions concerning learning goals to be of great applicability.

  • Practical Learning Goals (PLGs)
    Learning Goals which are specific enough to be useful to teachers for planning and conducting lessons or groups of lessons.
  • Operational Learning Goals (OLGs)
    Learning Goals which are both Practical and aligned with appropriate assessments. Operational learning goals are the fundamental unit of information for planning and evaluating educational programs. See An Alternative Approach to State Examinations in Science Education.

  • Levels of Conceptualization. (LOCs)
    The scale levels for a concept (e.g. density). See Zachos et al, 2000.

    Something that one experiences directly with the senses. Phenomena are to be distinguished from concepts, which are the intellectual constructs we use to interpret and understand phenomena

    Scientific Discovery
    The process of building and testing concepts in order to obtain a systematic understanding of the natural world. The same term also represents the product of that activity, that is, established facts, rules, etc. For an elaboration, see “Setting theoretical and empirical foundations for assessing scientific inquiry and discovery in educational programs.” Paul Zachos, Thomas L. Hick, William E.J. Doane, Cynthia Sargent. Journal of Research in Science Teaching ; Volume: 37, Issue: 9, November 2000, Pages: 938-962.

    Scientific Inquiry Capabilities (SICs)
    Concepts, skills or dispositions that contribute to success in discovering scientific concepts (see Scientific Discovery)

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