Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jennifer E. Lewis, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Robert Potter, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Potter, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Merkler, Ph.D

Committee Member

Jeffrey Kromrey, Ph.D.


chemistry education, measurement invariance, multivariate analysis, underrepresented groups, validity


Students' retention in STEM-related careers is of great concern for educators and researchers, especially the retention of underrepresented groups such as females, Hispanics, and Blacks in these careers. Therefore it is important to study factors that could potentially influence students' decision to stay in STEM. The work described in this dissertation involved three research studies where assessments have been used in college chemistry courses to assess students' prior content knowledge, chemistry-self-efficacy, and attitude toward science. These three factors have been suggested to have an influence on students' performance in a course and could eventually be a retention factor.

The first research study involved the development and use of an instrument to measure biochemistry prior knowledge of foundational concepts from chemistry and biology that are considered important for biochemistry learning. This instrument was developed with a parallel structure where three items were used to measure a concept and common incorrect ideas were used as distractors. The specific structure of this instrument allows the identification of common incorrect ideas that students have when entering biochemistry and that can hinder students' learning of biochemistry concepts. This instrument was given as pre/posttest to students enrolled in introductory biochemistry courses. The findings indicated that some incorrect ideas are persistent even after instruction, as is the case for bond energy and the structure of the alpha helix concepts. This study highlights the importance of measuring prior conceptual knowledge; so that instructors can plan interventions to help students overcome their incorrect ideas.

For the second research study, students' chemistry self-efficacy was measured five times during a semester of preparatory college chemistry. Chemistry self-efficacy beliefs have been linked to students' achievement, and students with stronger self-efficacy are more likely to try challenging tasks and persist in them, which will help them to stay in STEM. Using multilevel modeling analysis to examine potential differences in students' self-efficacy beliefs by sex and race/ethnicity, it was found that there were some differences in the trends by race/ethnicity. In particular, we found that for Hispanic and Black males the trends were negative when compared with White males. This study highlights the importance of measuring self-efficacy at different time points in the semester and for instructors to be aware of potential differences in their students' confidence when working on a chemistry task.

The third research study involves the use of the Test of Science Related Attitudes (TOSRA) in an introductory chemistry course. A shortened version of the instrument that includes three scales, normality of scientists, attitude toward inquiry, and career interest in science was used. The first purpose of this study was to gather validity evidence for the internal structure of the instrument with college chemistry students. Using measurement invariance analysis by sex and race/ethnicity, it was found that the internal structure holds by sex, but it did not hold for Blacks in our sample. Further analysis revealed problems with the normality scales for Blacks. The second purpose was to examine the relationship between the scales of TOSRA, achievement in chemistry, and math prior knowledge. Using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) it was found that two of the TOSRA scales, attitude toward inquiry and career interest in science, have a small but significant influence on students' achievement in chemistry. This study highlights the importance of examining if the scores apply similarly for different group of students in a population, since the scores on these assessments could be used to make decisions that will affect student.

The research studies presented in this work are a step forward with our intention to understand better the factors that can influence students' decisions to stay or leave STEM-related careers. Each study has provided psychometric evidence for the use of three different assessments in college chemistry courses. Instructors can use these assessments in large and small lecture classrooms. Information obtained from these assessments can then be used to make target interventions to help students learn and/or be more confident on a given task. Also, it highlights the importance to look at different group of students, such as the underrepresented groups, since response trends may be different. Being aware of students' diverse needs will help us to understand some of the challenges that student face in the chemistry classroom. Understanding some of these challenges will help instructors be more prepared for teaching.

Included in

Chemistry Commons