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An inquirED Blog

Assessment in Elementary Social Studies: An Inquiry-Based Approach

Updated: Aug 19, 2022


inquirED’s approach to assessment in Inquiry Journeys was based on the principles of consistency and creativity — the same principles you use every day in the classroom!

Why consistency and creativity?

Because assessment is a process that happens throughout a unit – in every lesson and across modules — requiring a wide variety of tools and approaches. Creativity and consistency in assessment not only allow for a more holistic picture of student understanding but also keeps students more engaged in the process. Additionally, there is so much skill development and knowledge-building happening in an inquiry classroom —how can one type of assessment measure all of the following skills and understandings?

Variety of Assessment

Pre-Assessment: Inquiry Journeys contains pre-assessment tasks that provide teachers the opportunity to gauge the prior knowledge and skills of students. These pre-assessments occur at the beginning of every Inquiry in Inquiry Journeys.

Formative Assessments: Inquiry Journeys includes opportunities for ongoing assessment, or formative assessment, in every lesson. Assessment guides draw teachers’ attention to written, drawn, or observational student responses. Through formative assessment, students have the opportunity to demonstrate understanding and skills across a diverse set of tasks, including written claims, creative responses, and others.

Self-Assessment: Student self-assessment is an important component of the inquiry process and is embedded throughout Inquiry Journeys. Throughout an Inquiry, students set goals and reflect on their learning. Additionally, during the final lesson of the Inquiry, students reflect on and assess their learning from the Inquiry.

Checkpoint Assessments: Checkpoint assessments are aligned to module objectives, serving as a formative assessment for the Inquiry and a summative assessment for the module. They are designed to check understanding of concepts and development of skills after a period of sustained investigation. In Inquiry Journeys, checkpoint assessments are suggested at the end of each Investigation Module. These tools prompt students to draw conclusions and demonstrate understanding in diverse ways, often through formal performance tasks.

Inquiry Product as an Assessment: Students develop an Inquiry Product using the design cycle in the Action Module. This is an opportunity for students to synthesize and demonstrate their learning from the Inquiry. At the beginning of this module, a rubric is co-created with students and informed by the Inquiry Challenge Statement that is developed in the last Investigation Module. The rubric is used throughout the Action Module to assess student understanding.

Frequency of Assessment

Cycle of Assessment in Inquiry-Based Social Studies
Cycle of Assessment in Inquiry Journeys

How do all those assessments work together across a unit? View the graphic above for a simple representation. Notice that:

  • The Launch Module begins your unit with two dynamic lessons, both of which contain pre-assessments that allow you gauge background knowledge, skills, and interests.

  • There are 3-5 lessons in each Investigation Module. Each of these lessons contain a formative assessment. A Checkpoint Assessment is also included at the end of each module.

  • There are 9-12 Lessons in the Action Module. Each of these lessons contain a formative assessment. A summative assessment is included in the final lesson of the Action Module.


About inquirED

inquirED was founded by teachers with the mission of bringing inquiry-based social studies to every classroom. Inquiry Journeys, inquirED’s elementary social studies curriculum, is used in schools and districts across the country to help students develop deep social studies content knowledge and build the inquiry skills that are essential for a thriving democracy.


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