An explanative basis for the differential performance of students with low math aptitude in general chemistry
Students who score within the bottom quartile on cognitive measures of math aptitude have been identified as at-risk for low performance in chemistry courses, with less attention as to why such differential performance persists. At-risk students struggle most differentially on assessment items related to the mole concept and stoichiometry. An exploration as to the nature of the differential performance observed became of great interest as the assessment of these topics rarely progresses beyond multiplication or division, and at-risk students who achieved proficiency with the mole concept and stoichiometry had no noticeable gaps in academic chemistry performance when compared to students scoring in the top three quartiles of math aptitude. Thus, students in first-semester general chemistry were surveyed to describe their solution processes toward assessment items involving the mole concept and stoichiometry. Three hundred and forty-eight students responded to all survey prompts with 101 identified as at-risk. Findings suggest that while all students were observed to struggle in the conceptualization of the algorithms by which they execute solution processes, not-at-risk chemistry students were more likely to achieve correct answers via chemically implausible solution pathways. Rather than suggest the removal of assessment practices involving algorithmic, multiple-choice assessment on these topics, the implications include practical suggestions and opportunities for further research toward improving the equitability of measures used to assess proficiency with stoichiometry.