Educational Psychology scholar awarded IES grant

by the College of Education at Illinois   /   Jul 19, 2016

Jennifer CromleyJennifer Cromley, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, has been awarded a three-year grant worth $756,527 from the Institute of Education Sciences for her research project “Inference-Making and Reasoning: Refinement of an Assessment for Use in Gateway Biology Courses.”

Educational research shows that cognition plays a major role in student achievement and retention in undergraduate gateway STEM courses, such as the Introductory Biology course in which her team’s assessment work will be situated. Variables such as ACT scores, GPA, and other cognitive realms explain substantial variance in course grades and intention to remain in STEM majors among students taking such biology courses.

Research also shows that freshmen biology courses have a high failure rate, and reasoning with new information in biology is a challenging task for beginning students. Cromley and her team have done preliminary work on this issue, and high-quality measures take a lot of time to develop, according to Cromley. Once developed, however, they can be very valuable to instructors, academic advisers, administrators, and researchers.

“At the end of the project, our plan is to have a high-quality measure of reasoning in biology that is unbiased, that can help identify at-risk students—even ones who have good high school credentials—and that can show growth in reasoning skills after a semester of introductory biology,” Cromley said.

For the last seven years, Cromley and her team have used a measure of student Inference-Making and Reasoning in Biology (IMRB) that explains additional variance in these outcomes above and beyond the commonly used cognitive variables.

During the research project, Cromley and her collaborators will conduct a series of measurement studies on the IMRB, including cognitive interviewing, item calibration based on item response theory, and testing for differential item functioning, which is necessary to make modifications on the measure and to provide evidence of reliability and predictive validity.

Cromley, whose past research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, focuses on reading comprehension of illustrated scientific text and cognitive and motivational predictors of STEM students' achievement and retention. Her research includes both studies of basic processes (how learning works) and classroom interventions (how to help students learn better).

IES has awarded more than $100 million in grants for education research covering topics such as cognition and student learning; improving education systems; reading and writing; and social and behavioral context for academic learning.