Numeric information in graphic forms skills pre-assessment

The second program learning outcome which SC 130 Physical Science addresses is "Students will be able to present and interpret numeric information in graphic forms." Twenty-eight students in physical science fall 2012 were given seven questions which focused on this particular outcome plus an additional two questions. The preassessment was done on the first day of class.

Underneath the focus on physical systems, SC 130 Physical Science is built on a foundation of connecting physical systems to their mathematical models and communicating the results in writing. Laboratory exercises lead to the writing up of a full laboratory report that is marked for content, syntax, grammar, vocabulary, organization, and cohesion.

The majority of the laboratories investigate systems that involve a linear mathematical relationship. Reports include xy scatter graphs, best fit linear trend lines, slope, and y-intercept analysis. The course outline includes a learning outcome that parallels the general education program learning outcome cited above, "Students will generate mathematical models for physical science systems."

The students are not unfamiliar with mathematics. The last question asked the highest math class taken by the students.

Math Students
MS 096 Elementary Algebra 1
MS 098 Transition to Algebra 1
MS 099 Intermediate Algebra 1
MS 100 College Algebra 8
MS 101 Algebra and Trigonometry 2
MS 106 Technical Math II 1
BU/MS 110 Business Mathematics 1
MS 150 Statistics (MS 100 pre-requisite) 7

Seventeen of twenty-six students have completed college algebra or algebra and trigonometry. With y-intercepts set to zero, the mathematics systems on the pre-assessment should be nearly trivial even for an MS 096 Elementary Algebra student - the relationships are all direct relationships and the slope can be obtained by dividing any y-coordinate value with its corresponding x-coordinate value.

Yet no student correctly answered more than five of the nine questions. Not one. 75% of the students answered only three or fewer questions correct. Fully 50% of the students answered only two or fewer correct. And three students could not answer any of the nine questions correctly. The MS 096 student obtained two correct - outperforming their more mathematically trained peers.

This is not simply natural decay of knowledge and loss over time, this is rather thorough extinction of knowledge, with only the ability to plot data from a table of values showing a minimally successful rate retention (18/26 = 69%). The following table indicates the number of students out of 26 answering a question correctly.

Question Correct
Calculate slope from line on graph 6
Determine units from axis labels 1
Determine y-intercept from line on graph 3
Write out the equation of line from graph 0
Plot xy data given a table labeled x, y 18
Calculate slope from plotted line on graph 1
Determine y-intercept from plotted line on graph 8
Determine slope from slope-intercept form 10
Determine y-intercept from slope-intercept form 9

Work done in prior terms suggests SC 130 Physical Science will lift performance on these nine items by term's end.

Whether or not SC 130 Physical Science results in retention over the longer haul and thus delivers on the program learning outcome remains unknown and difficult to determine.

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