Item response theory evaluation of the Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory national data set

Colin S. Wallace, Timothy G. Chambers, Edward E. Prather

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Astronomy Education Research.] This paper presents the first item response theory (IRT) analysis of the national data set on introductory, general education, college-level astronomy teaching using the Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory (LSCI). We used the difference between students' pre- and postinstruction IRT-estimated abilities as a measure of learning gain. This analysis provides deeper insights than prior publications both into the LSCI as an instrument and into the effectiveness of teaching and learning in introductory astronomy courses. Our IRT analysis supports the classical test theory findings of prior studies using the LSCI with this population. In particular, we found that students in classes that used active learning strategies at least 25% of the time had average IRT-estimated learning gains that were approximately 1 logit larger than students in classes that spent less time on active learning strategies. We also found that instructors who want their classes to achieve an improvement in abilities of average Δθ=1 logit must spend at least 25% of class time on active learning strategies. However, our analysis also powerfully illustrates the lack of insight into student learning that is revealed by looking at a single measure of learning gain, such as average Δθ. Educators and researchers should also examine the distributions of students' abilities pre- and postinstruction in order to understand how many students actually achieved an improvement in their abilities and whether or not a majority of students have moved to postabilities significantly greater than the national average.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number010149
JournalPhysical Review Physics Education Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 15 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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