Rethinking thinking

Bekah Davis observes students at John F. Hodge High School in St. James, Missouri.

Bekah Davis observes students at John F. Hodge High School in St. James, Missouri. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

For many Missouri S&T freshmen, Chemistry 1310, General Chemistry, is a tough hurdle in their academic careers. Many students struggle with the academically rigorous and demanding course. When the faculty who teach General Chemistry approached Daniel Reardon, assistant professor of English and technical communication at S&T, about testing the effectiveness of the course, he had the perfect student in mind to complete the research.

Reardon chose Bekah Davis, then a senior in English education, to help complete the project. As part of an Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience (OURE) project, Davis aligned Chemistry 1310 exam questions with Norman L. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Levels to study how well S&T students performed on each type of question. Webb’s four knowledge levels range in difficulty from recall and reproduction questions, DOK level 1, to extended thinking questions, DOK level 4.

“After aligning the scores of exams, I looked at the average scores on a problem-by-problem basis,” says Davis. “I discovered a large drop in the average student score when the questions required critical and strategic thinking, DOK level 3, or extended thinking.”

Based on her work, Davis concluded that many of the students in General Chemistry are not equipped to answer level 3 and level 4 questions – and Davis thinks she knows why.

“This problem may be caused in part by standardized testing because those tests do not ask level 3 and 4 questions, so students never learn how to approach them,” she says. “This is an important topic in need of further study to bring about needed and effective changes to education.”

Davis completed her student teaching this past spring before graduating in May. She currently works as an editor at the U.S. Geological Survey.

“I hope that my research will spur my colleagues and peers to continue this research and encourage other scholars to contribute to this discussion on standardized testing,” she says. “I want to continue this research and I’m excited to see where it goes in the coming years.”

By Arielle Bodine