Assessment of content area knowledge, writing skills, and higher order thinking skills of students participating in an entry-level biology major's course
Hand, James E.
Current curriculum reform trends in science education have led many institutions to revamp their programs from those incorporating traditional direct teaching style lectures and labs to those integrating inquiry driven, problem based learning in lectures and labs. In response to poor performance in mixed majors' /non majors' biology courses and low retention rate of biology students at Southwest Texas State University (SWT) a new program entitled the Biology 2000 Curriculum was implemented in the fall of 2000. A major portion of the new curriculum is the addition of two new entry-level majors' only courses. The new curriculum replaced the traditional entry-level zoology and botany courses with a two-semester Functional and Organismal Biology sequence. The entry-level courses were designed to introduce inquiry-based learning at the first phase of the biology program. Program evaluation of two entry-level biology major's courses was implemented in the fall semester of 2000 as part of the total assessment strategy of the Biology Program at SWT. The goal of the assessment was to assess change in entry-level students' content area knowledge, writing skills, and higher order thinking skills over the course of a semester. A "homemade" instrument of assessment was designed and used in a pre-post semester format on all students enrolled in the entry-level courses. Content areas reflective of course syllabi were chosen and assessed. A paired t-test was used to determine significant change over the course of a semester. Four semesters of data were aggregated and a total of 708 students were assessed. Results of assessments in Functional Biology indicate a significant increase in the content areas of genetics only. Results of assessments in Organismal Biology indicate a significant increase in the content areas of cells, metabolism, plants, and genetics. Students in Functional Biology had an average increase of 10.3% from pre semester to post semester with a maximum score of 54% while students in Organismal Biology had an average increase of 6.6% with a maximum score of 41 %. Results indicate that students are not learning sufficient content area knowledge, but showed marked improvement in writing skills and higher order thinking skills. An assessment protocol was established and groundwork laid for continuing assessment of entry-level biology classes at SWT.
curriculum change, biology, assessment
Hand, J. E. (2002). Assessment of content area knowledge, writing skills, and higher order thinking skills of students participating in an entry-level biology major's course (Unpublished thesis). Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.