Date Awarded

Winter 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Juanita Jo Matkins

Committee Member

Carol L Tieso

Committee Member

Paul D Heideman

Committee Member

Lee A Kirkpatrick


This pilot study evaluated the validity of a new quantitative, closed-response instrument for assessing student conceptual change regarding the theory of evolution. The instrument has two distinguishing design features. First, it is designed not only to gauge student mastery of the scientific model of evolution, but also to elicit a trio of deeply intuitive tendencies that are known to compromise many students’ understanding: the projection of intentional agency, teleological directionality, and immutable essences onto biological phenomena. Second, in addition to a section of conventional multiple choice questions, the instrument contains a series of items where students may simultaneously endorse both scientifically normative propositions and intuitively appealing yet unscientific propositions, without having to choose between them. These features allow for the hypothesized possibility that the three intuitions are partly innate, themselves products of cognitive evolution in our hominin ancestors, and thus may continue to inform students’ thinking even after instruction and conceptual change. The test was piloted with 340 high school students from diverse schools and communities. Confirmatory factor analysis and other statistical methods provided evidence that the instrument already has strong potential for validly distinguishing students who hold a correct scientific understanding from those who do not, but that revision and retesting are needed to render it valid for gauging students’ adherence to intuitive misconceptions. Ultimately the instrument holds promise as a tool for classroom intervention studies by conceptual change researchers, for diagnostic testing and data gathering by instructional leaders, and for provoking classroom dialogue and debate by science teachers.



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