Date of Award

2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Program

Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Duane M. Covrig

Second Advisor

Tevni E. Grojales

Third Advisor

Sylvia Gonzalez

Abstract

Problem. American high-school students score lower in science achievement tests than their peers in other developed nations. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked the scientific achievement of American high-school students as ―very low‖ in comparison to high-school students in other industrialized nations—only 29th out of 57 developed countries. Research has indicated that achievement declines as U.S. students progress to higher grades and take on more rigorous science courses. A variety of factors have been documented that may account for U.S. students‘ lower science achievement rankings. These include socioeconomic status, race, and gender. One area only marginally explored is the role of cosmological beliefs—such as New Earth Creationism—on science achievement. Some studies indicate that these cosmological beliefs correlate to low science achievement, while others show little to no correlation between cosmological beliefs and science achievement. Americans are unique in their high rate of belief in divine special creation, as opposed to origin by evolution through natural selection. This cosmological view of origins differs from mainstream scientific thought, research, and publications. Some wonder whether this view of creation might partially explain the lower science achievement reported in American students. This problem needs to be more thoroughly investigated. Research on cosmological beliefs has focused mostly on college students in biology courses, but this study sought to understand this problem at the junior-high level of science education.

Research Design. A quasi-experimental design was used. The entire study took place at Clay Intermediate Center, a public school within the South Bend Community School Corporation (SBCSC) in South Bend, Indiana. A treatment group of 47 middle-school students participated in a three-session after-school science program. Their science achievement within the program was compared to their cosmological beliefs and other socio-demographic and instructional variables. Posttests were used to measure students‘ science achievement. The pretest and posttest were constructed using a test bank available from the publisher of the science unit. A control group of similar students took the pretest and posttest but did not participate in the after-school sessions. The students‘ level of science achievement from the posttest scores were then compared to their responses to statements from Eugenie Scott‘s Spectrum of Creationism scale, which measures cosmological beliefs related to origins (creationism to natural evolution). The quantitative data were represented in structural equation model(s). Students were debriefed with questions regarding their feelings of how their cosmological beliefs might affect their science achievement both within the course and in general.

Results. The study found no significance between science achievement and cosmological beliefs, but very strong multiple correlations of socioeconomic status and previous science knowledge to science achievement, as well as evidence that the instruction was effective in raising posttest scores. Recommendations were made that: (a) The significance of poverty status to science achievement of SBCSC students be further studied, (b) the study be extended to other middle schools and high schools within SBCSC, (c) SBCSC recognize the efficacy of after-school programs and consider further funding for these programs, and (d) SBCSC consider a unit that emphasizes empirical evidence, how things evolve, and the process of science through guided inquiry upon its next science adoption.

Subject Area

High school students--Indiana--Attitudes, High school students--Indiana--South Bend, Creationism, Academic achievement.