Science Education Department (SED)
 SPARCS: Standards- and Preconceptions-based Assessment of Reform Curricula in Science

In order to accurately gauge student understanding of science at a pre-college level, educational researchers recommended the use of misconception-based diagnostic tests. These tests draw upon recent advances in cognitive science while utilizing a multiple-choice format, including the most common non-scientific beliefs of learners as answer choices. Project SPARCS developed an item bank and generated several test instruments based on the grades 5-8 NRC Standards in physical science and in earth and space science. These tests were used during the 2006-7 school year with approximately 500 middle school physical science and earth science teachers and their 50,000 students in several hundred schools across the U.S. Both students and teachers took the tests, and teachers predicted their own students’ performance on each test as well as completed an online survey concerning their curricula uses, pedagogical choices, professional background, and school resources. These data were analyzed to characterize the content knowledge of middle school students, to evaluate reform and traditional middle school science courses, and the effects of teachers’ background and pedagogical choices, as well as to gauge the role of prerequisite knowledge in students’ success in high school and chemistry courses.

Links to our research findings will be added here as they become available.

P.I.: Philip Sadler

For more information, please contact: Hal Coyle, hcoyle@cfa (add


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