Lessons from a Large-Scale Assessment: Results from Free Response Pre- and Post-testing in Electricity and Magnetism
As part of a large-scale assessment project at a large university, we administered weekly pre-tests and bi-weekly post-tests in the recitation sections of our introductory classes over four semesters from Spring 2010 through Fall 2011. The post-tests were administered as graded quizzes and were developed to assess problem solving, laboratory, calculational and conceptual skills that had been the focus of instruction in lab, lecture and recitation sessions. They were not comprehensive, but gave us 'snapshots' of students' abilities throughout the semester. They were used in conjunction with other forms of assessment, such as conceptual inventories, to give us a broader picture of the state of our undergraduate classes, recitation sections and laboratories. The written pre- and post-tests, which required students to show their work and explain their reasoning, yielded different information on students' skills than the conceptual inventories. On almost all of the questions, the students in the inquiry-based course performed better than all of the other students in both the calculus-based and algebra-based classes. This study indicates that the inquiry-based students perform better at free-response questions that require students to show their work and explain their reasoning, even though their conceptual inventory scores are not significantly different from students in large lecture sections taught with Physics Education Research-informed (PER-informed) laboratories, recitations and lectures, as reported in a previous paper. This indicates a need for different and/or more comprehensive assessment instruments to evaluate the effectiveness of introductory materials and instructional techniques that can be compared across classes and universities.