BCSER: Breaking the Language Barrier in Chemistry Assessment

Project: Research project

Project Details


Many students experience language-related barriers that may prevent them from fully understanding and engaging in complex science content. Although dense and technically-rich scientific language is challenging for most students to interpret, it can become a systematic barrier for English Language Learner (ELL) students when it interferes with their ability to demonstrate their science knowledge. To learn how to make science course examinations more equitable, this project will examine ways to modify general chemistry exam items to make them more accessible to diverse student populations without reducing the chemistry content difficulty. These assessment items will be tested by measuring and comparing ELL students' and native English speaking (NES) students' performance. The project is supported by NSF's EHR Core Research Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (ECR BCSER) program, which is designed to build individuals' capacity to carry out high quality fundamental STEM education research in the core areas of STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM fields, and STEM workforce development.

This project will integrate research and professional development objectives to support the principal investigator (PI) in developing the educational assessment measurement skills needed to complement her established expertise in qualitative research methodologies and achieve the research goals. The project will modify general chemistry assessment items using the Equitable Framework for Classroom Assessment to ease linguistic complexity without reducing the chemistry content difficulty. An in-depth, qualitative study will also be conducted to understand students' perceptions of the features of the assessment items. The findings will be used to optimize the assessment items before conducting a quantitative study using differential item functioning analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of the items in reducing the performance gap between ELL and NES students. The project team will have frequent virtual and in-person meetings with their research mentors to discuss targeted readings, as well as progress and plans for developing and testing the assessment items. The PI will also complete two online course series on the topics of advanced quantitative methods, Rasch models and IRT; and attend the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research summer program in quantitative methods. Project outcomes will include the development and testing of modified assessment items as proof of concept of a method that can be implemented by STEM instructors in their own courses to equitably benefit learners. The PI will share what she has learned from her research and professional development experiences via local and national workshops. By participating in targeted professional development experiences, the PI will ultimately build her capacity to conduct fundamental research on designing equitable STEM assessments in the future.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date10/1/219/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $285,813.00


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