The landscape of science education is being transformed by the new Framework for Science Education (National Research Council, A framework for K-12 science education: practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2012), which emphasizes the centrality of scientific practices-such as explanation, argumentation, and communication-in science teaching, learning, and assessment. A major challenge facing the field of science education is developing assessment tools that are capable of validly and efficiently evaluating these practices. Our study examined the efficacy of a free, open-source machine-learning tool for evaluating the quality of students' written explanations of the causes of evolutionary change relative to three other approaches: (1) human-scored written explanations, (2) a multiple-choice test, and (3) clinical oral interviews. A large sample of undergraduates (n = 104) exposed to varying amounts of evolution content completed all three assessments: a clinical oral interview, a written open-response assessment, and a multiple-choice test. Rasch analysis was used to compute linear person measures and linear item measures on a single logit scale. We found that the multiple-choice test displayed poor person and item fit (mean square outfit >1.3), while both oral interview measures and computer-generated written response measures exhibited acceptable fit (average mean square outfit for interview: person 0.97, item 0.97; computer: person 1.03, item 1.06). Multiple-choice test measures were more weakly associated with interview measures (r = 0.35) than the computer-scored explanation measures (r = 0.63). Overall, Rasch analysis indicated that computer-scored written explanation measures (1) have the strongest correspondence to oral interview measures; (2) are capable of capturing students' normative scientific and naive ideas as accurately as human-scored explanations, and (3) more validly detect understanding than the multiple-choice assessment. These findings demonstrate the great potential of machine-learning tools for assessing key scientific practices highlighted in the new Framework for Science Education.
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