TEACHERS’ PERCEPTIONS ON EFFECTIVENESS OF THE KCSE BIOLOGY PRACTICAL ASSESSMENT APPROACH IN TESTING SCIENCE PROCESS SKILLS IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS IN SIAYA COUNTY, KENYA

ABSTRACT
Assessment is an important aspect of teaching - learning process in secondary schools. The Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) biology practical assessment approach introduced in the year 2005 is one in which out of the three questions tested, only one question, mostly food tests involve handling apparatus and specimens by the candidates. In the other two questions, the candidates observe photographs and photomicrographs presented and then answer questions. The approach was adopted with an aim of reducing the problems of cheating in biology practical examinations. However, its effectiveness in the assessment of Science Process Skills had not been ascertained. The purpose of this study was to establish the perceptions of teachers’ on the effectiveness of the assessment approach in testing science process skills. Descriptive survey research design was used in this study. The target population comprised all trained secondary school biology teachers in Siaya. Accessible population were a total of 108 secondary school biology teachers in Siaya County. Proportionate stratified sampling and simple random sampling were used to select the subjects of the study. Proportional stratified sampling was used to ensure the study sample were derived from all the six sub-counties that constitute Siaya County, while simple random sampling was used to obtain study sample from each sub-county. A total of 90 teachers formed the study sample. Biology Practical Teachers’ Questionnaire (BPTQ) was used to generate data from the respondents. Five research experts from the Faculty of Education and Community Studies, Egerton University, validated the instrument. The reliability of the instrument was estimated using Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient. Pilot-testing was conducted in the neighbouring Kisumu sub-county, Kisumu County. Reliability coefficient for the questionnaire was 0.85. Data analysis was carried out using descriptive statistics which were frequencies, means and percentages. The findings of this study indicated that, from teachers’ perceptions, the assessment of science process skills is ineffective in the KCSE Biology Practical Assessment Approach. It was concluded that in the perceptions of teachers, the KCSE Biology Practical Assessment Approach has not contributed much to the testing of science process skills in Biology practical Examinations. It was therefore recommended that a lot of hands-on activities, manipulation of specimens and handling of apparatus be reinforced in the testing of biology practical skills. The findings of this study are important in improving the testing of Biology practical paper by KNEC and teaching laboratory lessons by Biology teachers.

CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION
Background to the Study
Biology is one of the science subjects offered in Kenya’s secondary schools (Kenya Institute of Education [KIE], 2002). Good quality, appropriate biology experiments and investigations are the key to enhanced learning and clarification and consolidation of theory. Biology aims at equipping the learners with the knowledge, attitude and skills necessary for preserving the environment (Bennett & Kennedy, 2001). The subject enables the learner to appreciate humans as part of the broader community of living organisms. According to Kenya Institute of Education [KIE], 2002 the subject is important in fields such as Health, Agriculture, Environment and Education. In view of the attainment of Kenya Vision 2030 goals, appropriate testing approaches to establish the acquisition of relevant practical skills is Paramount. The overreaching aim of Biology in secondary schools is to provide biology-related learning experiences that enable students to develop scientific literacy, so that they can participate actively in the rapidly changing knowledge-based society, prepare for further studies or careers in the fields related to life science, and become lifelong learners in science and technology (Republic of Kenya, 2008).

The broad aims of the Biology Syllabus (KIE, 2002) are to enable students to: Communicate biological information in a precise, clear and logical manner; develop an understanding of interrelationships between plants and animals and between humans and their environment; apply the knowledge gained to improve and maintain the health of the individual, family and the community; relate and apply relevant biological knowledge and understanding to social and economic situations in rural and urban setting; observe and identify features of familiar and unfamiliar organisms, record the observations and make deductions about the functions of parts of organisms; develop positive attitude and interest towards biology and the relevant practical skills; demonstrate resourcefulness, relevant technical skills and specific thinking necessary for economic development; design and carry out experiments and projects that will enable them understand biological concept; create awareness of relevant knowledge, skills and attitude for further education and for training in related scientific fields, and acquire a firm foundation of relevant knowledge, skills and attitudes for further education and for training in related scientific field (KIE, 2002).

In contemporary society, it is obvious that as a result of the rapid explosion of knowledge in biology due to the achievements of molecular biology and biotechnology, many new content areas and technologies are involved in the teaching of biology (Boardman, 2001). For graduates to be successful, they must have the ability to access and generate new knowledge in a purposeful fashion, and to move beyond simple content knowledge to critical analysis and an understanding of emerging trends and issues. According Bridges (1997), they should be able to solve real life problems, communicate with one another and consider relationships within what they have learned, perceive their field of study in the broad perspective and develop flexibility and adaptability to continue learning in their disciplines throughout life, including practical skills and personal skills.

The application of the contemporary education theories and strategies in the teaching process will facilitate students developing the relevant tasks. In fact teaching and learning are inseparable, in that learning is a criterion and product of effective teaching. Bridges (1997) argues that learning is in essence the goal of teaching. If students are to become independent, lifelong and active learners, programs of teaching and assessment strategies needs to include methods and tasks which are interesting, motivating and require students to be involved in both team and individual learning tasks (Boardman, 2001). Assessment is an important aspect of teaching and learning process in secondary schools (Boardman, 2001). It is the main approach in the evaluation of curriculum delivery and implementation. The type of assessment to be used should therefore be given critical consideration in the teaching and learning process in secondary schools in any country. According to Urevbu (1991), assessment deals with how well a student or group of students have learned a particular set of skills or kind of knowledge. Lorrie (2000) noted that in addition to using assessment to monitor and promote individual students’ learning, classroom assessment should also be used to examine and improve teaching practices. Several scholars all over the world such as Lorrie (2000) Kalomba and Mpaju (2003), Boit, Njoki, and Koskey (2012) among others have carried out studies and reported on the close link between teaching/ learning and assessment.

Science process skills refer to any ability that helps a person do science such as observing, inferring, classifying, questioning, predicting, experimenting, data analysing and communicating (Rillero, 1998). According to researchers Badri and Shri (2013), science process skills are the sequence of events that are engaged by researcher while taking part in scientific investigations. They are series of connected actions, experiences or changes which go on internally within a learner and can usually be demonstrated externally. The skills are important to formal presentation of science. Thus, scientific process skills lay the basis of scientific inquiry and scientific thinking. A learning environment where science process skills are used requires active participation of students (Bagcı, 2006). Without developing these skills, it is difficult for people to construct new information. Jerry (1997) defines science process skills as a set of broadly transferable abilities, appropriate to many science disciplines and reflective of the behaviour of scientists.

An overview of biology practical syllabus and tests internationally and regionally has revealed that emphasis is given to hands-on/practical activities. The approach used in testing biology practical skills both internationally and regionally (USA, Britain, Nigeria and Uganda) emphasises testing of experimenting skills (California Department of Education [CDE], 2011; Nuffield Foundation, 2010 and West African Examinations Council [WAEC], 2011) have questions demanding that the students physically handle specimens as they make observations, drawings and conclusions.

Biology practical examinations in Uganda aim at; testing students’ ability to follow carefully a sequence of instructions within a set time allowance, using unfamiliar techniques in practical, recording observations and making deductions from it; examining and recognising features of familiar and unfamiliar biological specimens; recording observations and making deductions about functions of whole specimens or their parts, making clear line drawing of specimens provided, indicating magnification and labelling familiar structures; interpreting unfamiliar data and drawing conclusions from their interpretations; employing manual skills in assembling apparatus, in using chemical reagents and in using instruments such as mounting needles, scalpels and razor blades, forceps and scissors among others, and observing reactions, reading simple measuring instruments and performing simple arithmetic calculations.(Uganda National Examination Board [UNEB], 2011).

Over the years in Kenya, the testing of biology as a science subject in KCSE has been done in such a way that students do both theory paper(s) and a practical paper. The theory papers were and are designed to test mainly cognitive knowledge of the students whereas the practical papers emphasised laboratory skills. The previous testing of biology practical examination was such that in all the three questions tested, the candidates were allowed to manipulate apparatus or handle the actual specimens while answering questions (KNEC, 2005). However from the year 2005 the KCSE changed their format of setting the practical paper by replacing the actual specimens that were provided to students during the examinations with their images in the form of photographs (for multi-cellular organisms or their parts) and photomicrographs(for unicellular structures), citing cheating problems (KNEC, 2005). KNEC argued that when practical confidential instructions were sent to teachers earlier so that they could start assembling the specimens to be used in the examinations, the teachers were using this information to thoroughly drill their students in all aspects of the specimen that could be tested.

The concern however is that biology is a science subject in which students should be tested on practical skills by allowing them to observe, cut, measure, and cross examine actual specimens among other things as they respond to questions in the examinations. This is not possible with photomicrographs and photographs. It is also possible that the approach of replacing specimens with photomicrographs and photographs may make the teachers not to see the need of taking students through biology practical lessons in the laboratories which are viewed as laborious and time consuming but instead resort to the use of photomicrographs and photographs similar to those used by KNEC in testing.

Performance in biology in Siaya County has continued to be poor over the years despite the government’s effort to equip biology teachers with new skills through in- service trainings such as Strengthening Mathematics and Sciences in Secondary Education (SMASSE). Tables 1 and 2 show the performance in biology in Siaya County (formerly greater Siaya District) before the year 2005 and from the year 2005 - 2012 respectively.

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Item Type: Kenyan Material  |  Attribute: 84 pages  |  Chapters: 1-5
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