Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Margaret Mohr-Schroeder


This mixed methods study investigated methods for assessing STEM literacy amongst middle grades students participating in an informal learning environment, specifically, a summer STEM camp. Adopting a situated perspective on STEM literacy, this dissertation employed psychometric techniques and discourse analysis to answer the overarching research question: How can STEM literacy amongst middle school students be assessed in the context of a summer STEM camp? An integrated review of literacy within and across STEM disciplines first offered a new direction for conceptualizing STEM literacy. With this understanding, subsequent research methods applied novel approaches for investigating STEM literacy in the context of a summer STEM camp.

Quantitatively, various measurement models were tested for reasonableness in representing pre- and post-survey data to show a two-tier bifactor solution can be used to model the chosen quantitative survey. The calibrated data was represented by four correlated primary factors (science literacy, technological literacy, mathematical literacy, and engineering literacy) and four uncorrelated specific factors, orthogonal to the primary factors. The final four specific factors were characterized by affective components related to definitions of literacy in STEM disciplines and STEM literacy more holistically including: (1) self-efficacy/perception of ability, (2) attitude and interest (willingness to engage, career belief, disposition), (3) role and utility of STEM in society, and (4) sense of community.

Qualitatively, written reflection data were analyzed by first dichotomizing qualitative themes and then by using three of Gee’s inquiry tools (1999, 2005, 2011): situated meanings, social language, and Discourses; to analyze three of Gee’s building tasks of language (1999, 2005, 2011): significance, practices, and identities. Aspects of STEM literacy that involve knowledge and skills related to STEM activities were the focus of analyzing qualitative data. The findings from the discourse analysis suggest the style of language supportive of emerging STEM literacy can be understood through the context for learning; the enactment of STEM identities and STEM practices allow for this emergence as students utilize STEM language.

The combination of psychometrics and discourse analysis to analyze data collected during STEM camp allowed for investigating how different research tools can offer insight into assessing different aspects of STEM literacy. This research offers applications of research methods to data collected in an informal learning environment to investigate how STEM literacy can be assessed. The overall conclusion involves the recognition of the complexity in understanding STEM literacy amongst middle school students and the need to consider knowledge, skills and dispositions when assessing STEM literacy. Possible implications of the work to assess STEM literacy in an informal context are discussed. Recommendations for designing and implementing assessment to measure STEM literacy in an informal learning environment are made. Ultimately effective consistent methods for measuring STEM literacy could shape learning opportunities for K-12 students to achieve STEM literacy as an outcome and promote equitable educational experiences for all students.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)