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AAAS Testing Web Site Probes Students’ Misconceptions About Science

First, the good news: 95% of middle and high school students know that DNA contains genetic information that is passed from parent to offspring. But 57% of them incorrectly believe that a gene is a trait—like having blue eyes—and not a segment of DNA.

Those insights and others like them are at the core of a new assessment Web site developed by AAAS Project 2061, the

science literacy initiative, to track what students know—and don’t know—about science. With a focus on students’ misconceptions, the site is a practical guide for educators as they create multiple-choice tests and diagnose whether their students truly understand the science concepts they are taught.

With increasing calls for national science standards and a common core curriculum for middle school and high school students, it is more important than ever to get assessment right, said George DeBoer, deputy director of Project 2061.


“Good assessments can be used to actually improve students’ learning and not just to hold teachers and schools accountable,” said DeBoer, the principal investigator for the project. “Assessments that are designed to diagnose students’ misconceptions can be powerful educational tools.”

AAAS’s Project 2061, founded in 1985 as a long-term effort to improve science education, began work on the assessment program in 2004 with support from the National Science Foundation. Its Web site presents detailed information on how a national sample of students answered 600 multiple-choice questions on topics from cell biology to plate tectonics. The test questions were developed by AAAS staff and doctorate-level research associates, and evaluated by experts in science, science education, and science assessment.