Several years ago, we introduced the idea of item response curves (IRC), a simplistic form of item response theory (IRT), to the physics education research community as a way to examine item performance on diagnostic instruments such as the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). We noted that a full-blown analysis using IRT would be a next logical step, which several authors have since taken. In this paper, we show that our simple approach not only yields similar conclusions in the analysis of the performance of items on the FCI to the more sophisticated and complex IRT analyses but also permits additional insights by characterizing both the correct and incorrect answer choices. Our IRC approach can be applied to a variety of multiple-choice assessments but, as applied to a carefully designed instrument such as the FCI, allows us to probe student understanding as a function of ability level through an examination of each answer choice. We imagine that physics teachers could use IRC analysis to identify prominent misconceptions and tailor their instruction to combat those misconceptions, fulfilling the FCI authors' original intentions for its use. Furthermore, the IRC analysis can assist test designers to improve their assessments by identifying nonfunctioning distractors that can be replaced with distractors attractive to students at various ability levels.
American Journal of Physics
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