Assessment in the ACES Ed Classroom

Posted in Kids' Corner

One of my long-term goals in the ACES Environmental Ed classroom at Aspen Elementary School has been to improve student assessment in 3rd and 4th grade. In ACES Ed, each grade level’s curriculum consists of 28 lessons that are divided into three or four units. These units weave state science standards together with place-based experiential lessons to create an environmental education experience that is both rooted in science and relevant to the natural environments where our students live.

This year, I worked to integrate assessments into the 3rd and 4th grade curriculums. We had students complete a half-page “quiz” at the beginning of each unit as a baseline, and at the end of the unit to assess progress. Each assessment included questions that either adhere to state science standards and/or relate to local ecological literacy.  

Sharing assessment results with the ACES education team has led to productive discussions and helpful feedback about our curriculum. I have used the assessment data and resulting conversations to support changes in the 3rd and 4th grade curriculums and sharpen our focus on areas where we can improve. Below are the pre- and post-assessment results for our 3rd Grade Geology Unit and 4th Grade Watershed Unit this year.

In the 3rd Grade Geology Unit pre-assessment, we found that 25% of students could identify the crust on a diagram of the Earth and only 11% could describe 2 tests geologists use to learn about rocks. No student could complete a chart of the 3 rock types, how they are formed, and their characteristics with 80% accuracy. 26% could explain how sand is formed. In the post-assessment, we saw around a 60% increase in correct response to the first three questions. However, there was only a 27% increase in how many students could explain how sand is formed. 97 students took the pre-assessment and 105 students took the post-assessment. 

In the 4th Grade Watershed Unit pre-assessment, we found that 11% of the 91 students who took the quiz could name the watershed they live in. 34% could describe 2 ways to conserve water in their daily lives, and 33% could list 2 types of pollution. 24% of students could connect those types of pollution to probable sources.  By the end of the unit, over 90% of students answered each of these questions correctly, including 98% who named their home watershed. This was one of our most successful units.

Since 2011, ACES Educators have also been tracking students' attitudes towards environmental education. This is accomplished with a simple survey that asks students to rate how interested they are in environmental topics and how strongly they agree with two statements that are central to the environmental ethic. The graphs below compare data from students who took this survey at the beginning of their 3rd grade year in September 2014, then took it again at the end of their 4th grade year in April 2016.

Several interesting trends emerge from this data, though the survey is subjective and is likely influenced by outside factors such as the time of year and group dynamics in their classes. Overall, students are more likely to state they are “very interested” in “being outside” and “hands-on activities and experiments” than they are in “science in general” or “nature and the environment.” They are more likely to agree with the statement “I can help take care of the environment” than the statement “My actions impact the environment.”  

The percentage of students who stated they were “very interested” in environmental topics increased in every category, ranging from an 8% increase in those who were very interested in “nature and the environment” to a 28% increase in those who were very interested in “hands-on activities and experiments.”  We also saw a 13% percent increase in those who were very interested in “science in general” and a 16% increase in those who were very interested in “being outside.”  At the end of their 4th grade year, 2% or fewer students stated they were “not interested” in any of the environmental topics.

Obviously the impacts of our work in the ACES classrooms reach far beyond what can be assessed in short surveys or 4-question quizzes. Even so, I have found the pre- and post-assessment system to be a useful tool in understanding how well students have internalized the facts and concepts we are teaching. If you have any comments, feedback, or suggestions in response to this data, please don't hesitate to contact me at

~ Denali Barron, ACES Educator