The Learning Loss Effect in Genetics: What Ideas Do Students Retain or Lose After Instruction?

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Modern genetics is a relatively new domain but it is increasingly important for students to have a firm grasp on the content since genetically modified organisms, genetic screenings, and stem cell therapies are becoming more commonplace. In a previous study, we used the Learning Progression-based Assessment of Modern Genetics to assess high school students’ knowledge of genetics concepts after an intensive ~23 calendar week long genetics instructional period. Given that this type of instruction is unique and may represent a “best case scenario,” we are now investigating how students’ knowledge of genetics changes after instruction (i.e. learning loss effect). Using multi-level growth modeling, we find that overall student scores were significantly decreased a year after instruction ended compared to their scores immediately after instruction ended. Interestingly, there was no significant difference in scores a year after instruction ended compared to scores immediately after instruction for 10 of 12 genetics concepts. Two concepts showed a significant reduction in student scores: details of meiosis, and how genetics concepts are related to each other. Our analysis demonstrates students tend to retain mechanistic explanations in genetics while forgetting memorized details.


This was presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Conference in San Antonio, TX in April of 2017.