Science Self-Concept – More Than the Sum of its Parts?

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Description: Academic self-concept is understood as a multidimensional, hierarchical construct. Multidimensionality refers to the subject-specific differentiation of academic self-concepts, whereas hierarchy refers to the aggregation of more specific facets of self-concepts into more general ones. Previous research demonstrated that students distinguish between their self-concepts in biology, chemistry, and physics if taught as separate school subjects, as is done in Germany. However, large-scale international educational studies, such as PISA, often use a monolithic science self-concept measure. It is yet unclear whether an aggregate of subject-specific self-concepts is equivalent to a directly measured science self-concept. We assessed the subject-specific and a global science self-concept of 1,229 German grade 10 students. A higher-order factor model and a bifactor model demonstrated a very high correlation between the “inferred” and the explicitly assessed global science self-concept. Despite the high empirical overlap, we argue for a more nuanced view of the science self-concept, because statistical unity is not to be confused with causal unity. Moreover, from a methodological perspective, we used multi-group confirmatory factor analysis to examine the mean structure and local structural equation models to study measurement invariance across science ability. Implications for the theoretical status of self-concept as a hierarchical construct are discussed.

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