Performance on large-scale science tests : item attributes that may impact achievement scores

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


Significant differences in achievement among ethnic groups persist on the eighth-grade science Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). The WASL measures academic performance in science using both scenario and stand-alone question types. Previous research suggests that presenting target items connected to an authentic context, like scenario question types, can increase science achievement scores especially in underrepresented groups and thus help to close the achievement gap. The purpose of this study was to identify significant differences in performance between gender and ethnic subgroups by question type on the 2005 eighth-grade science WASL. MANOVA and ANOVA were used to examine relationships between gender and ethnic subgroups as independent variables with achievement scores on scenario and stand-alone question types as dependent variables. MANOVA revealed no significant effects for gender, suggesting that the 2005 eighth-grade science WASL was gender neutral. However, there were significant effects for ethnicity. ANOVA revealed significant effects for ethnicity and ethnicity by gender interaction in both question types. Effect sizes were negligible for the ethnicity by gender interaction. Large effect sizes between ethnicities on scenario question types became moderate to small effect sizes on stand-alone question types. This indicates the score advantage the higher performing subgroups had over the lower performing subgroups was not as large on stand-alone question types compared to scenario question types. A further comparison examined performance on multiple-choice items only within both question types. Similar achievement patterns between ethnicities emerged; however, achievement patterns between genders changed in boys' favor. Scenario question types appeared to register differences between ethnic groups to a greater degree than stand-alone question types. These differences may be attributable to individual differences in cognition, characteristics of test items themselves and/or opportunities to learn. Suggestions for future research are made.




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