The Initial Knowledge State of High School Astronomy Students
This study of 1,414 high school earth science and astronomy students characterizes the prevalence of their astronomical misconceptions. The multiple-choice instrument was prepared by scouring the literature on science misconceptions for evidence of preconceptions and from the author's interviews with students. Views that were incorrect, but espoused by a large fraction of students, were included as distractors. Results have been analyzed using classical test theory. A linear multiple regression model has helped to show the relative contributions of demographic and school factors to at the number of misconceptions held by students.
The instrument was found to be a reliable and valid test of students' misconceptions. The mean student score was 34 percent. Fifty-one student misconceptions were revealed by this test, nineteen of which were preferred by students to the correct answer. Several misconceptions appeared more frequently among the higher-performing students. Significant differences in student performance were found in several subgroups based upon schooling and demographic factors. Twenty-five percent out of the total 30 percent of the variance in total test score could be accounted for by gender, race, and math level courses taken. Grade level and previous enrolment in an earth science course were not found to be predictive of total score. Mother's education proved to be of small import; level of father's education was not significant.
This test is a useful addition to instruments that measure student misconceptions. It could find application in tests of effective intervention for conceptual learning. Significantly shortened versions of this instrument that account for 75 and 90 percent of the variance in the forty-seven-item instrument are recommended. Such tests of misconceptions may be somewhat disheartening to teachers and their students. A test made up of only misconception questions will probably have average total scores less than 40 percent. If teacher are to test their students using misconception questions, they should adjust grading policies to reflect this lower average score.
Type of Publication
Sadler, Philip M.
Number of Pages
Nation(s) of Study
United States of America