Assessing Science Literacy at WSU: 2016 Science Literacy Concept Inventory (UCORE)

WSU defines science literacy as a “basic understanding of major scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision-making, participation in civic affairs, economic productivity and global stewardship.” Citizen-level science literacy involves being able to use scientific reasoning, assess the quality of sources of scientific information, understand the nature of scientific evidence and processes, and recognize how science literacy affects everyday life. WSU’s faculty members view scientific literacy as an essential competency that they want all graduates to possess and it is included as one of WSU’s Seven Goals for Undergraduates

Over the past three years, roughly 3,200 WSU students in 45 courses on the Pullman, Vancouver, and Tri-Cities campuses have participated in the Science Literacy Concept Inventory (SLCI) as part of WSU’s assessment of science literacy. As reported in the 2016 Executive Summary, results from the Spring 2016 SLCI indicated that, overall, WSU seniors scored higher than first year students on all twelve science literacy concepts (average +12%). Composite results from 2013-2016 also indicated that overall SLCI scores at WSU were similar to those of the National Study and increased with both class rank and the number of science courses taken.

SLCI results also indicate the most common science misconceptions among WSU students. Top misconceptions were related to being unable to distinguish between science and technology and being unable to recognize basic tenets or assumptions of science. Understanding what misconceptions students hold helps WSU instructors know how to target instructional improvements.

To address key misconceptions, faculty have made changes to their courses, such as:

  • Incorporating mini writing assignments related to science literacy and metacognition
  • Adding an assignment where students take one misconception and investigate the effects of the misconception on society
  • Leading student discussion of SLCI results in class, including misconceptions

WSU piloted the use of the SLCI in the Academic Year 2013-14 to assess whether the curriculum as a whole is developing scientifically literate students. The SLCI is designed to gauge students’ grasp of science as a way of knowing and of the scientific processes required for personal decision-making, participation in civic affairs, economic productivity and global stewardship. SLCI measures students understanding and misconceptions of twelve science literacy concepts. The SLCI was developed and validated by a multi-disciplinary team from four California State University campuses and five science disciplines (Nuhfer et al. 2016), and has been used at universities across the nation. It takes a multi-disciplinary approach rather than focusing on content from one discipline. For additional information, contact ATL.