Assessing the Reasoning Component of Citizen-Level Science Literacy: Results and Implications from an 18,000 Student Study

Tuesday 1:30pm REC Center Large Ice Overlook Room
Oral Presentation Part of Geoscience Education Research II


Edward Nuhfer, U of WY
Karl Wirth, Macalester College
Christopher Cogan, Ventura College
We report results from a brief 25-item Science Literacy Concept Inventory (SLCI), which is a valid and reliable assessment instrument for addressing core concepts of citizen-level science literacy. The SLCI focuses on the reasoning involved in science's way of knowing as articulated by 12 assessable student-learning outcomes. Our growing database consists of over 18,000 undergraduate students plus additional graduate students and professors. Higher mean institutional SLCI scores strongly reflect increasing institutional selectivity in accord with institutions' higher mean SAT and ACT scores. Where sufficient SLCI data is available, changes across academic ranks serves as one useful assessment of intellectual growth provided by an institution. Socio-economic factors including (a) first-generation students, (b) English as native language and (c) interest in commitment to a science major proved to be powerful factors that accounted for most of the variations in scores across ethnicities and genders.
General education science courses do not significantly advance understanding of science as a way of knowing. Rather, the higher educational experience as a whole (the sum contribution from all metadisciplines) better accounts for advancing capacity for such reasoning than do general education science courses. The average SLCI scores of undergraduate students begin to show a significant increase after completing about 4 science courses, which suggests that science majors do make gains in science literacy, but that these gains come slowly. Whether this is because science as a way of knowing is not being taught explicitly or because the intellectual capacity for reasoning that we measured develops too slowly to produce gains in one or two introductory courses remains unresolved.
Greater improvements in science literacy might be realized in general education science courses if we employed reflective components with explicit emphasis on science's way of knowing as part of our lessons throughout these courses.