Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2016

Publication Title

Evolution: Education and Outreach

Volume

9

Issue

10

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12052-016-0061-z

Abstract

Background

Research has shown that students have a variety of ideas about natural selection that may be context dependent. Prior analyses of student responses to open-ended evolution items have demonstrated that students apply more core ideas about natural selection when asked about animals, but respond with the same number of naive ideas for plant and animal items. Other research has shown that changing an item to ask about trait loss or gain shifted the types of naive ideas applied by students in their responses. In this paper, we take up both of these findings to determine if differences exist in the types of ideas students apply to similar items with either a plant or an animal in the item stem.

Results

In order to understand if students applied different ideas to plants or animals in distractor-driven multiple-choice questions, we analyzed high school biology students’ responses to matched-item pairs. Dichotomous scoring revealed that students chose the correct response more often for the animal items as compared to the plant items. Chi squared analyses revealed significant differences in the distribution of student responses to matched items. For example, more students chose responses that defined animal fitness as related to their strength and plants’ fitness related to its longevity.

Conclusions

These results suggest that varied context of plants or animals in item stems on diagnostic assessments can provide teachers with a more complete picture of their students’ ideas about natural selection prior to instruction. This is particularly important in assessments used prior to instruction; as teachers will gain greater insight into the variety of ways students think about natural selection across different types of plants and animals.

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