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Measuring Mathematical Competences of Engineering Students at the Beginning of Their Studies

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 4

Irene Neumann, IPN—Leibniz-Institute for Science and Mathematics Education, Kiel

Bettina Rösken -Winter and Malte Lehmann, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Christoph Duchhardt, University of Bremen

Aiso Heinze, IPN—Leibniz-Institute for Science and Mathematics Education, Kiel

Reinhold Nickolaus, University of Stuttgart

This article reports about our efforts to determine engineering students’ competence in mathematics. Our research is embedded in a larger project, KoM@ING–Modeling and developing competence: Integrated IRT based and qualitative studies with a focus on mathematics and its usage in engineering studies, within the program Modeling and Measuring Competencies in Higher Education (KoKoHS). KoKoHS provides the umbrella organization of several research projects addressing the modeling and measuring of competences at the college level. KoM@ING aims to model the role of engineering students’ mathematical competences for their studies from both a quantitative and a qualitative perspective.

Here, we report the development of a large-scale instrument assessing engineering freshmen’s competence in mathematics by applying Rasch analysis to determine measures for item difficulties and student abilities. Several analyses were performed to provide insights into the measures’ reliability and validity. In particular, to examine cognitive validity, we scrutinized students’ think-aloud protocols when solving the items to investigate their problem solving abilities as a proxy for item difficulty. Overall, we found first evidence that our instrument is suitable to assess engineering freshmen’s competence in mathematics. This instrument may be helpful to conduct further research and to inform those concerned with college organization and policy.