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Exploring the relationship between process data and contextual variables among Scandinavian students on PISA 2012 mathematics tasks
Largescale Assessments in Education volume 11, Article number: 5 (2023)
Abstract
Given the ongoing development of computerbased tasks, there has been increasing interest in modelling students’ behaviour indicators from log file data with contextual variables collected via questionnaires. In this work, we apply a latent regression model to analyse the relationship between latent constructs (i.e., performance, speed, and exploration behaviour) and contextual variables among Scandinavian students (i.e., Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) during their completion of three interactive mathematics tasks in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The purpose of this study is threefold: (1) to investigate whether a factor model is adequate for explaining the relationship between extracted process indicators from log files and students’ performance on the three items; (2) to evaluate whether measurement invariance holds for the three analysed countries; and (3) to determine how well contextual variables [i.e., a student’s background, availability, use of information and communication technology (ICT) resources, and learning conditions for mathematical literacy] correlate with the model’s latent constructs. Our findings reveal that a threefactor CFA model is wellsuited to the analysed data and that a weak measurement invariance model performs best. By including contextual variables in the modelling, we also highlight the differences in Scandinavian students’ profiles. Specifically, higher economic social cultural status (ESCS) consistently led to higher math proficiency across all three countries. Norway did not show any gender differences in math proficiency, response time, or exploration behaviours. Experience with math tasks at school led to more exploration behaviours across all three countries. Swedish and Norwegian students who had more experience with pure math tasks at school were likely to obtain higher mathematics achievement scores and tended to interact more frequently with the testing platform when answering the three math items. When Danish students had higher ICT scores (i.e., more ICT resources available at school and home), they had lower response accuracy. There was, however, no effect of ICT on the three factors among Swedish and Norwegian students. Finally, we also discuss the implications and limitations of this study.
Introduction
One important advantage of the transition from paperbased to computerbased assessments in educational measurement has been the possibility of using log files as sources of process data (Provasnik, 2021). In the literature, process data can be defined as part of data management of raw log files with the aim to extract any piece of information (e.g., response action or timing) from the computergenerated files (Reis Costa & Leoncio Netto, 2022) or linked to the response process as defined by Provasnik (2021): ‘the empirical data that reflect the process of working on a test question—reflecting cognitive and noncognitive, particularly psychological, constructs.’ There has been increasing interest in analysing such data since it is possible to gather students’ information beyond response accuracy (i.e., correct or incorrect answers). For example, one can extract the amount of time students spend on each task (i.e., time on task, Chen, 2020) as well as data on their interactions with the available tools (e.g., the use of an online calculator, Jiang et al., 2023).
A latent variable framework is a common approach to analysing the relationship between student performance and indicators extracted from log files. For example, De Boeck & Scalise (2019) used a threefactor confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) model to explore the relationships between performance, time, and action variables. Reis Costa and collaborators (2021), in turn, incorporated information from log data into scoring for their analysis of the precision of ability estimates. In a Bayesian framework, Klotzke & Fox (2019) proposed covariance structure modelling for the nested and crossed dependences of data extracted from log files. Other studies have addressed joint modelling by including not only the number of actions but also even more complicated features, such as action sequences, time, response, and background variables (Han et al., 2019; Tang et al., 2020; Ulitzsch et al., 2021). Qiao et al., (2022) conducted a multigroup joint model with the response, response time, and action sequence, which focused on the group invariance of gender. However, rare studies yet showed the framework of crosscountry comparison of latent variables measured by the processing indicators together with the measurement invariance examination for processing data in an international largescale survey.
In this study, we use data from the 2012 computerbased assessment of mathematics (CBAM) from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and our purpose is threefold: (1) to investigate whether a latent variable model is adequate for explaining the relationship between extracted process indicators from log files and students’ performance on three items; (2) to evaluate whether measurement invariance holds for a number of selected countries (i.e., Scandinavian); and (3) to determine how well contextual variables [i.e., a student’s background, availability, use of information and communication technology (ICT) resources, and learning conditions for mathematical literacy] correlate with the model’s latent constructs.
The effects of studentlevel characteristics (such as personal backgrounds) and their context (e.g., learning environment and opportunity to learn the knowledge content) on outcomes (such as mathematics achievement) have been well studied (Schmidt et al., 2015; Senkbeil & Wittwer, 2013; Wihardini, 2016). However, research on the joint latent model, which incorporates the effects of contextual variables on the measurement model for process data (e.g., time on task or use of an online calculator), is still in its infancy. As the third step of our analysis framework (i.e., after accounting for model adequacy and measurement invariance), we propose a latent regression analysis to further explore students’ cognitive processes when answering mathematic problems and differences between PISA participating countries. Before this exploration, however, an examination of invariance for the measurement model is required to ensure that the comparison of effects of contextual variables across different groups is meaningful (Nagengast & Marsh, 2014; Raykov & Marcoulides, 2006).
This study adds to the literature by analysing how data on students’ performance, selfreported data from questionnaires, and extracted observed behaviour through process data are related to one another with regard to a set of tasks from the PISA. We work with data from the 2012 CBAM in three publicly released items (i.e., CM015Q01, CM015Q02D, CM015Q03D). They all belong to the CD production unit, which facilitates the interpretation of the model’s results, as students are exposed to the same item features and stimulus. We focus our analysis on Scandinavian students (i.e., Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) and investigate measurement invariance for the extracted process data indicators for a meaningful comparison of the model’s results among this group of countries.
This study adds to the body of knowledge by applying the De Boeck & Scalise’s (2019) model for a set of mathematics items from PISA and also showed a procedure for crosscountry comparison of the latent variables for process data, including (1) the measurement invariance examination, which makes the comparison among Scandinavian countries meaningful and (2) latent regression analysis which links country differences to the contextual variables. This paper suggests standard procedures for applied researchers who would like to make meaningful crossgroup comparisons of process data from international largescale assessments (ILSAs) with latent variable models. Due to its nature, however, this study is explorative and possible relationship among explanatory variables and differences in students’ process behaviours among Scandinavian countries should be investigated further.
Theoretical background and research questions
Based on the item features, several process indicators can be extracted from log files that can help increase the understanding of student performance. For instance, De Boeck & Scalise (2019) investigated the relationships among performance, invested time, and students’ actions in a collaborative task in PISA 2015. By using the sequence mining technique, He et al., (2019a, 2019b) identified generalized patterns of respondents’ problemsolving behaviours in the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).
We focus our analyses on two behaviour indicators—response times and frequency of actions—using process data to explore the relationship between these indicators and students’ performance during the three relevant math tasks across the three Scandinavian countries.
Our interest in the analysis of Scandinavian students is twofold. First, these countries have attracted attention in the educational context due to their successful combination of economic performance and social wellbeing. For example, together with other Nordic countries, they are generally perceived as having the most pronounced equality regarding educational opportunity (Frønes et al., 2020). Although this group of countries is more homogeneous than other PISA participating nations, there is a lack of studies that capture the nuances of how Scandinavian students spend their time and interact with mathematics items. Thus, our second interest is the exploration of how these countries differ in their relationships of contextual factors, students’ performance, and process data in a joint framework. Using latent regression modelling, this study aims to fill this gap.
In this study, we have added three types of contextual variables—students’ background, availability and use of information and communication technology (ICT) resources, and learning conditions for mathematical literacy—to provide a broader overview of the similarities and differences in students’ outcomes among the analysed countries. All datasets are public and available for download on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) website.
Research question 1: modelling performance and process data indicators from log files
Statistical approaches for modelling response outcomes together with process data indicators have been used to evaluate students’ scientific inquiry performance in a problemsolving scenario (Greiff et al., 2015; Scalise & ClarkeMidura, 2018; Teig et al., 2020). For example, Greiff et al., (2015) identified students’ mastery of an exploration strategy associated with problemsolving proficiency by analysing students’ interaction with a computerbased task. Teig et al., (2020), in turn, applied latent profile analysis to frequency of action, response accuracy, and response time to identify students’ profiles of inquiry performance.
Many studies applied psychometrical approaches to analyse the process data for various educational purposes, such as classifying or predicting student performances. Chen (2020) proposed a continuoustime dynamic choice measurement model where they aimed to use the sequence of response actions to predict students’ final response to items and overall performance in the test. Ulitzsch et al., (2021) proposed a similarity statistic to connect response time preactions and sequence of actions, and based on that, they clustered students’ homogeneous response process patterns. Tang et al., (2020) applied a dissimilarity measure in the multidimensional scaling framework to identify the discrepancy between response processes. Han et al., (2019) explored the action features from process data that predicted the item responses.
Among all possible process indicators that can be extracted from log file data, frequency of action has been recognized as one of the indicators associated with students’ exploration behaviour and response time as supporting evidence of scientific inquiry processes (Scalise & ClarkeMidura, 2018; Teig et al., 2020). Using such indicators, De Boeck & Scalise (2019) developed a CFA model employing the indicators of frequency of action, response time, and response accuracy to respectively measure three latent variables: inquiry exploration behaviour, speed, and collaborative problemsolving performance. Figure 1 illustrates De Boeck & Scalise’s threefactor CFA model (2019). It is assumed that the local independence condition is satisfied for all three constructs, indicating that differences in the construct fully account for the apparent correlation among the process indicators. This is especially true for assessment items since test developers must take into consideration not only the item contents but also how much time students will spend on each task and what tools are available for their successful completion.
The model developed by De Boeck & Scalise (2019) for processing data (i.e., response times and frequency of actions) together with product data (i.e., response accuracy) has demonstrated a good fit to the response data for four items measuring collaborative problem solving among a sample of students from the United States in PISA 2015. In contrast to classical factor models, the residuals of response accuracy and frequency of action within each item were added to the modelling to predict the residual of response time, and the residual of response accuracy was assumed to be correlated with the residual of frequency of action. In contrast to the usual CFA framework, extra dependencies were added to the modelling (i.e., direct effects and correlated residuals) to capture withinitem relationships between process aspects and performance beyond the variance explained by the latent variables. These dependencies are particularly important since the successful completion of the tasks requires a minimum amount of time and may entail the manipulation of specific tools presented in the item stimulus.
In our study, we expanded De Boeck & Scalise’s (2019) framework for modelling students’ performance and process data indicators by including contextual variables and studying the relationship of these variables across the three Scandinavian countries. By assuming that speed and exploration behaviour factors can be considered educational outcomes, such as mathematical performance, this analysis opens a new avenue of research by investigating how contextual variables are associated with these latent constructs among Scandinavian students. Since group comparisons require that the meaning of constructs remains invariant across the studied countries (Nagengast & Marsh, 2014), we evaluated measurement invariance using a multiplegroup approach.
Research question 2: measurement invariance
Measurement invariance evaluation is a psychometric evaluation of the equivalence of model’s parameters across groups, time points, or test occasions (Brown, 2015). When measurement invariance does not exist between groups, the operationalized construct and the structure between constructs cannot be meaningfully tested across groups (e.g., hypothesis tests for the regression of one construct on another) because the measured construct or behaviour can have a different meaning for the disparate groups (Vandenberg, 2002). Therefore, measurement invariance is essentially better examined and demonstrated prior to testing the relations between constructs across groups.
Due to its importance, measurement invariance is applied in various fields. For example, Senese et al., (2012) examined measurement invariance across cultural groups before mean difference tests. In clinical psychology research, Kueh et al., (2018) tested measurement invariance between the genders regarding physical activity and the leisure motivation scale among youth. In an international largescale analysis, Hansson & Gustafsson (2013) investigated the measurement invariance in socioeconomic status between immigrant and nonimmigrant backgrounds in Sweden using data from TIMSS 2003.
Measurement invariance can be tested using a CFA framework. For example, Nagengast & Marsh (2014) studied the invariance in motivation and engagement constructs using data from 57 countries via PISA 2006 through a multiplegroup approach. He et al., (2019a, 2019b) also applied multigroup CFA modelling to evaluate the measurement invariance in noncognitive constructs via international largescale assessments.
Using process data from Scandinavian countries, we tested measurement invariance in latent factors, such as speed and exploration behaviour, using a multiple group CFA. Few studies have explored the measurement invariance in latent constructs associated with process data from largescale international assessments. Reis Costa et al., (2021), for example, investigated the measurement invariance in timerelated variables across countries using PISA 2012 data. Concerning exploration behaviour, however, there is still a lack of studies examining measurement invariance for such constructs across countries participating in international surveys.
Research question 3: effects of contextual variables on modelling
In addition to comparing student achievement, another purpose of international largescale assessments is to compare student responses to background questionnaires (Kyllonen & Bertling, 2013). These questionnaires include a set of items to gather contextual information, such as students’ background, context of instruction, or learning aspects (e.g., students’ interests, motivation, and engagement).
In the PISA, a large selection of items from student questionnaires is devoted to contextual factors linked to cognitive and/or noncognitive outcomes (OECD, 2013). Regression analyses are usually the standard for statistically evaluating the effects of these contextual variables on performance. For instance, Senkbeil & Wittwer (2013) ran a multivariate linear regression to evaluate the relationship between mathematical achievement and computer use at home in PISA 2006 while accounting for social background variables.
To the best of our knowledge, this study is one of the first to incorporate contextual variables into the modelling of students’ performance and behaviour indicators across different PISA countries. We include such variables to advance the understanding of how contextual factors can influence educational outcomes. Specific to the analysis of process data in ILSA, several factors can play a role in how students respond to an assessment item and how it can be translated into process data indicators. For example, Reis Costa & Leoncio Netto (2022) presented a sixlayer ecological framework for capturing the nuances of intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics that can help explain test score variability. With this framework in mind, we limited our study to three layers in our analysis: (1) item characteristics and associated process data, (2) personal characteristics, and (3) school and family context. Figure 2 illustrates our approach.
Specifically, we analysed three types of contextual variables from the PISA 2012 questionnaire: (1) personal background (i.e., gender, socioeconomic status index, language at home, and immigration background); (2) availability and use of ICT resources; and (3) learning conditions for mathematical literacy (i.e., opportunity to learn content). By exploring the effect of these contextual factors on the latent constructs (i.e., mathematic performance, speed, and exploration behaviour), this study may provide insights into how effective and equitable school practices are in Scandinavian countries.
Personal characteristics and family background play an important role in students’ academic success. For example, Wihardini (2016) showed that the PISA socioeconomic status (SES) index has a significant effect on students’ math performance estimates after controlling for other covariates. Gender is another important control variable that specifically for mathematics tasks, has shown that boys consistently outperform girls on standardized tests (Liu et al., 2008). Together with these two variables, students’ migration status and language at home were also analysed, since many studies using PISA data strive to disentangle the effect of these variables from the socioeconomic effect (OECD, 2013).
In the learning environment, new digital resources have entered students’ homes and classrooms in the last decade. The availability of such ICT devices at school or home can influence a student’s performance on assessments (Senkbeil & Wittwer, 2013). Given the increase in computerbased tests, we also anticipated that the availability and use of ICT might have a positive effect on exploration behaviour and might influence the speed construct as well. To evaluate this, we explored differences in the latent constructs among Scandinavian students using five PISA scales: ICT availability at home, ICT availability at school, ICT use at home for schoolrelated tasks, use of ICT in mathematics lessons, and use of ICT at school.
Using PISA’s opportunity to learn (OTL) indices relating to studentperceived experiences and familiarity with mathematical tasks, we also explored the effect of learning conditions on the extracted process indicators among Scandinavian countries. Since formal mathematics OTL has a strong relationship with student achievement (Schmidt et al., 2015), we anticipated that such variables would also play an important role in the time students spend on the test and in how intensely students interact with test items.
In summary, the purpose of this study is to explore the potential of extracted process data and questionnaire data to advance our understanding of students’ outcomes from an international survey. Using three computerbased mathematics tasks from the PISA 2012 cycle, we first investigated the relationship between two specific behavioural indicators (i.e., response times and frequency of actions) and students’ itemlevel performance (i.e., response accuracy) in a threefactor CFA model, following the framework developed by De Boeck & Scalise (2019). We further investigated measurement invariance using multiplegroup CFA modelling across the three Scandinavian countries (i.e., Denmark, Sweden, and Norway). Using the best model from the invariance evaluation, we present a latent regression model to evaluate the effect of contextual variables on the latent constructs across the analysed countries. Accordingly, we address the three following research questions, which build upon each other:

1.
Does a factor model of the observed measures of performance and process data support evidence for latent constructs (i.e., latent performance, latent speed, and latent exploration behaviour) among the three PISA 2012 math tasks?

2.
How do Scandinavian countries differ in the model’s parameters for time and frequency of action and the relationship between the latent constructs for math tasks?

3.
How do contextual variables (i.e., a student’s background, availability, use of ICT resources, and learning conditions for mathematical literacy) relate to the latent factors and across the three countries?
The remaining sections are organized as follows: First, we describe the three computerbased mathematics tasks in PISA 2012, analyse the samples, and provide our analytical framework. In the Results and Discussion sections, we elaborate model data fit, measurement invariance, and latent regression coefficient results and discuss the implications and insights of the findings for the field.
Data and methods
Sample
In this study, we adopted public data from PISA 2012, which was administered by the OECD. This PISA data was collected from a representative sample of students aged 15 in each participating education stem. For the purpose of this study, we analysed students’ data from Scandinavian countries (i.e., Denmark, Sweden, and Norway). In total, there were 1614 students from this group of countries with available log file data on the three analysed computerbased math tasks. After removing 188 students who had missing values, the final sample comprised 1426 students. Table 1 shows the demographic characteristics of the analysed sample of students by country.
Instrument
From the PISA 2012 computerbased assessment of mathematics, we selected three items from the unit “CD production” for this study. These items were administered on the same test forms and were grouped together in a bundle; they shared the same reading passage, figure, and interaction interface (see Fig. 3). To answer the questions, students were provided with two linear curves. In the textbox, students were allowed to input the value of the xaxis (i.e., number of copies), and the values of the yaxis for the two linear curves were then generated. While working on these tasks, the computergenerated log files collected students’ information, such as response accuracy, response time, and interactions between student and computer (e.g., actions of keying words in the textbox and clicking the screen).
These math tasks varied in content and format. While the first item measured mathematical quantity, the other two were related to change and relationship content. The format of the first item (item code: CM015Q01) was multiple choice, and it involved calculating the difference between two linear curves for a specific xvalue. The following two items were of the constructed response type. For the second item (item code: CM015Q02D), students were asked to write the equation of the regression function for one linear curve from the figure. For the third item (item code: CM015Q03D), students had to find the value of the xaxis where the two linear curves intersected.
Process indicators
We used the LOGAN R package (Reis Costa & Leoncio, 2019) to extract students’ process data (i.e., response time, and frequency of actions) for the three analysed items from the PISA 2012. Table 2 presents a description of each extracted process indicator. More details on the structure of log file data from the PISA and preprocessing analysis can be found in Reis Costa & Leoncio Netto (2022).
In this study, we used binary and ordinal variables for response accuracy. While students only received correct or incorrect answers for the first item (CM015Q01), partial credit was given for the remaining two items (CM015Q02D and CM015Q03D). The response time was the total time of solving the item in minutes. To transform the positively skewed distribution of response time into a symmetric shape, we used the logarithm of response time as the analysed indicator of response speed (van der Linden, 2006). The frequency of actions in the tasks was the number of actions of inputting and submitting the values in the “number of copies” textbox. Since the available log file data presented information for each keystroke as a “keyup” event, not as a whole number, we considered each valid value in the textbox a valid interaction. For example, when a student entered a number with three digits (e.g., “100”), three indicators of interactive behaviour were considered for this student (i.e., one for each event: “1,” “10,” and “100”). The log of the frequency of action indicators was used in the analysis based on De Boeck & Scalise (2019). The latent variable behind frequency of actions was named “Exploration behaviour” because while students can use the textbox to facilitate their understanding regarding the task, it was not a necessary action for task completion. In other words, an item could be solved by other means (e.g., by paper and pencil, since the use of these tools was allowed during the 2012 PISA), for which the computation of the “frequency of actions” would be equal to zero However, when students decided to use the “number of copies” textbox, we categorized this as an exploration solution behaviour because it may have helped students in their mathematical thinking.
Contextual variables
Table 3 presents a description of the contextual indicators we selected for our study. Although other variables in the PISA may also be relevant (e.g., attitude towards mathematics or familiarity with mathematical concepts), not all items from the PISA 2012 questionnaire were presented to all students due to the rotated scheme adopted in this edition of the assessment (OECD, 2014). In this study, scales of the availability and use of ICT resources were included in the modelling as a single construct, while other variables were considered single measures. The rates of missing values of contextual variables ranged from 2 to 34.7%. We did not use a multiple imputation approach in this study because we adopted the fullinformation maximum likelihood in the parameter estimation, which performed well in recovering parameters when the missing rate was under 50% (Lee & Shi, 2021).
Analytic strategy
To answer our research questions, we conducted our analyses in four steps. First, a descriptive analysis of the performance, process, and contextual indicators was performed. Then, a CFA model, following Boeck’s framework, was used to analyse the relationship between all observed measures and latent factors (RQ1). For the third step, we evaluated the measurement invariance in the time and action model parameters across the three Scandinavian countries (RQ2). Finally, latent regression models with covariates were analysed to evaluate how contextual factors are related to the latent factors (RQ3).
Descriptive statistics
For each math task, we computed the average, standard deviation, range (i.e., minimum and maximum), skewness, and kurtosis statistics for extracted measures from the process data (i.e., response times and frequency of action), as well as each student’s final outcome (i.e., response accuracy). These statistics were also calculated for each of the contextual variables extracted from the PISA 2012 data.
CFA
For research question 1, CFA modelling was conducted to ensure that the processing data in PISA 2012 fit De Boeck & Scalise’s (2019) framework (see Fig. 1) by using lavaan (Rosseel, 2012) in R version 4.0.4 (R Core Team, 2021). The marginal maximum likelihood estimator with robust standard errors (i.e., MLR option in lavaan) using a numerical integration algorithm was implemented in the parameter estimation. We evaluated the model data fit indices, comparative fit index (CFI; Bentler, 1990), Tucker–Lewis index (TLI; Bentler & Bonett, 1980; Tucker & Lewis, 1973), root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA; Steiger, 1990), and standardized root mean squared residual (SRMR; Hu & Bentler, 1999). We used two fit thresholds: good (CFI & TLI > 0.95; SRMR < 0.08; RMSEA < 0.06) and moderate (0.90 < CFI & TLI < 0.95; 0.08 < SRMR < 0.10; 0.06 < RMSEA < 0.10).
Based on De Boeck’s framework, the mathematical formulation of the threefactor CFA model was as follows: P_{ni}, T_{ni}, and A_{ni} are the observed response correctness, response time, and frequency of actions of a person n (n = 1, …, N) to Item i (i = 1, …, I). The binary response outcome to the items is scored 1 for correct answers and 0 otherwise. The response time is the total time students spent on each item. The frequency of actions is the number of attempts that a student performed when inserting a valid number of copies in the textbox located in the “Price calculator” box (see Fig. 2) to answer each item. The logarithm function for the transformation of response times and frequency of actions is used to make the positive skewed distributions symmetric. The latent cognitive factors (i.e., performance, exploration behaviour, and speed) were measured by response accuracy, frequency of actions, and response time, respectively.
Thus, we represent person n’s response accuracy P_{ni} to Item i measuring cognitive performance θ_{n} as:
where δ_{i} and α_{i} are the intercept and factor loading for Item i, respectively, and \({\epsilon }_{ni}\) is the residual term. Likewise, person n’s frequency of actions measuring exploring behaviour ξ_{n} is defined as:
where ν_{i} and λ_{i} are the intercept and factor loading for Item i, respectively, and \({\varepsilon }_{ni}\) is the residual term. The logarithm transformed response time logT_{ni} is used to measure person n’s speed. The three factors correlate with each other, and we also assumed correlated residuals to model the withinitem relationship among the process indicators. The residual of response accuracy and that of frequency of actions correlates with the residual of response time, and the residual of response accuracy correlates with the residual of frequency of actions. Notably, for model flexibility, we released De Boeck’s model’s hypothesis of the causal relationship between indicators. This means that the residuals of indicators within items were correlated rather than having a direct effect.
Response accuracy, logarithm frequency of actions, and logarithm response time were regarded as continuous in this study. Although categorical indicators, the measurement model for response accuracy using a traditional CFA for continuous indicators. We acknowledge that a traditional CFA model is not the most appropriate model in terms of the misspecification for the categorical and count variables since the potential consequence is that the factor loadings are imprecisely estimated; however, fortunately, the intercorrelation is still estimated with good parameter coverage (Li, 2016) when using the marginal maximum likelihood estimator with robust standard errors (MLR). Specific to research question 3, this approach is useful on the modelling of process data and contextual variables which can reveal meaningful correlations between the three latent factors (which are recovered well under MLR, even for categorical and count data) and well accommodate how the latent factors are explained by the covariates. Although De Boeck & Scalise (2019) used weighted least squares (WLSMV) estimation method which does not make assumptions about observed data, WLSMV still assumes the normal latent distribution underlying each categorical indicator and performs worse intercorrelation recovery than MLR when the latent distributions are nonnormal (Li, 2016). Therefore, to obtain accurate intercorrelation and answer the research questions, we adopted MLR and considered response accuracy continuous indicators. Additionally, we used a sandwich estimator in MLR (i.e., an estimator to make standard errors robust for the data not normal; MaydeuOlivares, 2017) for the standard error computation.
Because the students were sampled with unequal probabilities in PISA’s twostage sampling design (OECD, 2009), we incorporated the sampling weights to establish unbiased estimations by using lavaan.survey (Oberski, 2014) in R version 4.0.4.
In addition to De Boeck and Scalise’s joint CFA model for response accuracy, response time, and frequency of actions, we examined the three separate CFA models for response accuracy, response time, and frequency of actions to demonstrate the unidimensionality of measurement models for response accuracy, response time, and frequency of actions, respectively.
Measurement invariance via CFA
For research question 2, we examined measurement invariance by using a multiplegroup approach, considering each of the three Nordic countries a group in the CFA model with three latent factors (i.e., mathematic performance, speed, and exploration behaviour). We followed the procedure presented by Marsh et al., (2009) to examine measurement invariance. We compared five models: the configural invariance model, weak invariance model, strong invariance model, strict invariance model, and structural invariance model. The configural invariance model had the same measurement framework (e.g., the same number of factors, indicators, and relationships among factors) but freely estimated all the parameters. The weak invariance model then similarly fixed the factor loadings across the three countries. The strong invariance model similarly fixed the intercepts and factor loadings across the three countries, and the strict invariance model similarly fixed the intercepts, factor loadings, and residual variances across the three countries. The structural invariance model is a baseline model where not only the measurement parameters but also the variance–covariance between factors and residual correlation between factors are invariant. Table 4 provides the status of the parameter constraints for the above models.
Model comparison evaluation
The fit indices for the model comparison in the measurement invariance examination were CFI, REMSA, SRMR, Akaike information criterion (AIC; Akaike, 1998), and Bayesian information criterion (BIC; Schwarz, 1978). We conducted a chisquare difference test (Brown, 2015) and compared it to the adjacent complex model to determine what level of invariance was achieved. The adjacent complex model is a model that releases the parameter invariance constraints more than the invariance model. We adopted a conservative significance level of 0.05 for hypothesis testing. When the chisquare test showed that the invariant model did not significantly differ from the adjacent complex model, we selected the invariant model because it is more compact than the adjacent complex model.
Since the chisquare test is influenced by the sample size and complexity of the model (Yuan & Chan, 2016), we also accounted for the difference in the fit indices as additional information to complete the model comparison. In this study, the criteria of this difference were based on Chen’s (2007) suggestion; hence, if the invariant model had ΔCFI less than − 0.010, ΔRMSEA less than 0.015, and ΔSRMR less than 0.030 compared to the adjacent complex model, it was selected, even if the chisquare different tests produced significant results.
When the weak invariance model fits better than the configural model, factor variance and covariance can be compared meaningfully between countries. When strong invariance holds, the means of the factors can be meaningfully compared. When strict invariance holds, the reliability of the measures is consistent between countries (Raykov & Marcoulides, 2006). To answer research question 3, at least weak invariance was required because research question 2 entails comparing the factor covariance between Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
Based on the model that had the best model data fit in the measurement invariance step, we compared the intercorrelation (i.e., correlation between response, time intensity, and action frequency) among Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. A Wald test was conducted to examine the difference in intercorrelation among these three Nordic countries.
Latent regression model with covariates
As long as the variance–covariance among the three factors is meaningful (i.e., at least weak measurement invariance is reached), the covariates can meaningfully explain the variance in the three factors. To answer research question 3, we fitted the invariant CFA model again, but this time, the covariates of a latent variable ICT and two manifest variables concerning OLT were used to predict the three factors (i.e., math performance, speed, and exploration behaviour) while considering each Scandinavian country a group. This is called a latent regression model, where the measured latent variables are predicted by the covariates.
Figure 4 illustrates the proposed model. In this framework, we allowed the three countries to have different structural coefficients; thus, the regression coefficients for Denmark, Sweden, and Norway were freely estimated separately. For the contextual variables, we used the following: (1) a latent ICT variable measured by five items (i.e., ICT available at home, ICT available at school, ICT used at home for schoolrelated tasks, use of ICT in mathematics lessons, and use of ICT at school); and (2) two manifest variables concerning OLT—Experience with Applied Mathematics Tasks at School (ExApplM) and Experience with Pure Mathematics Tasks at School (ExPureM). In addition to the ICT and OLT variables, the covariates included four controlling variables: immigration status, ESCS, language at home, and gender. We tested the significance of the regression coefficients for each contextual variable (e.g., ICT, ExApplM, and ExPureM) by computing the p values to answer research question 3.
Results
Descriptive analysis
Table 5 presents the means, standard deviations, minimal values, and maximum values for the indicators and covariates. Item 1 was the easiest task, whereas Item 3 demanded the longest response time and required the greatest number of actions in solving the math problem. The skewness of response time to the three items was 2.54, 1.93, and 1.47, respectively, and that of frequency of actions was 7.36, 6.76, and 2.30, respectively. We used log transformation of response times and frequency of actions as indicators of latent speediness and latent exploration behaviour. The skewness of log response time to the three items was − 0.82, − 0.80, and − 1.19, respectively, and that of log frequency of actions was 0.77, 1.31, and 0.55, respectively. All skewness after log transformation ranges from − 2 to + 2, which is considered acceptable for the normal distribution assumption (George & Mallery, 2010). The correlations among indicators and manifest variables can be found in Appendix A. The descriptive statistics of all indicators and covariates for Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, separately, can be found in Appendix B.
CFA Modelling
The model data fit for the CFA model showed CFI = 0.982 (> 0.95); TLI = 0.957 (> 0.95); RMSEA = 0.052 (< 0.08); and SRMR = 0.028 (< 0.08). All the indices demonstrate that De Boeck & Scalise’s (2019) framework fit the response data to the computerbased items when solving the math problem in PISA 2012. Table 6 shows the factor loadings of the indicators. All factor loadings were significantly positive for the corresponding factors. The standardized estimates show that the loadings of response accuracy for Item 2 were lower than those for other items. The correlation between math performance and response speed was 0.615, between math performance and exploring behaviour was 0.871, and between response speed and exploring behaviour was 0.573.
Table 7 shows the relations between the residuals of the indicators. All the residual relations were significantly larger than zero, except those relations between response accuracy and response time for Items 1 and 2. When answering Item 3, higher response accuracy required a longer response time. Similar to De Boeck & Scalise’s (2019) conclusions, response times and frequency of actions were highly correlated with each other within the items.
In addition to the joint CFA modelling, we have implemented separate CFA models for response accuracy, response time, and frequency of actions. The results indicate that all the model data fit indices showed a perfect fit (i.e., CFI = 1.000; TLI = 1.000; RMSEA = 0.000; and SRMR = 0.000); i.e., the degree of freedom for those measurement models containing only three items is equal to zero. The standardized factor loadings to the three items were 0.721, 0.871, and 0.775 for response accuracy; 0.535, 0.802, and 0.750 for response time; and 0.688, 0.626, and 0.876 for frequency of actions. All standardized factor loadings larger than 0.535 showed sufficient factor loadings for measuring the unidimensional latent variables.
Measurement invariance for the confirmatory factor model
Measurement invariance was examined to answer research question 2. Table 8 shows the comparisons between the configural, weak, strong, strict, and structural invariance models. Although the configural model had the smallest SRMR and the structural model had the smallest BIC, the AIC suggests that the weak invariance model fits the data best. This indicates that the factor loadings were invariant between Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The Δχ^{2} test showed that the weak invariance and configural invariance models did not significantly differ from each other in terms of model data fit. The same conclusion can be derived from the changes in CFI, RMSEA, and SRMR between the weak and configural invariance models. Based on Chen’s suggestion (2007), ΔCFI > 0.01, ΔRMSEA < 0.015, and ΔSRMR < 0.03 between the two nested models could be the same performance identified in model data fit. The strong invariance model had a worse model data fit than the weak invariance model, since ΔCFI < − 0.01 and the test of Δχ^{2} reached the significance of a nominal alpha level of 0.05. Generally, the weak and configural invariance models fit the data best. When comparing the weak and configural invariance models, the weak invariance model is less complex (fewer free parameters) than the configural invariance model. As a result, the weak invariance model was preferred, and it was concluded that the three Nordic countries have consistent factor loadings according to De Boeck & Scalise’s (2019) measurement model. That is, response accuracy, response time, and frequency of actions had the same measurement construct across the three Nordic countries.
This result implies that factor covariance among math proficiency, speed, and exploration behaviour can be compared meaningfully between countries. Additionally, the intercorrelations among the three factors for Denmark, Sweden, and Norway (see Table 9) show that all the intercorrelations are positive for the Nordic countries. The higher the math proficiency performance is, the longer the response time and the greater the frequency of actions to solve computerbased math problems. Denmark had a significantly higher correlation between math proficiency and exploration behaviour than Sweden and Norway but a significantly lower correlation between math proficiency and speed than Sweden. Sweden and Norway did not show significant differences in any of the intercorrelations. The correlations between speed and exploration behaviour for the three countries were not significantly different. In summary, Danish students had a larger extent of the positive relation between math proficiency and exploration behaviour than Swedish and Norwegian students but a smaller extent of the positive relation between math proficiency and speed than Swedish students.
Latent regression with covariates
Since a minimum level of measurement invariance was reached, it was possible to analyse the effects of ICT and OTL after controlling for immigration status, international language at home, SES, and gender across the Scandinavian countries. In a multigroup latent regression framework, as depicted in Fig. 4, the model fit statistics were CFI = 0.926, TLI = 0.904, RMSEA = 0.048, and SRMR = 0.058. This indicates that the multigroup model where the three factors (i.e., math proficiency, speed, and exploration behaviour) were predicted by the selected contextual variables fit the data satisfactorily.
The effects of ICT and OTL on the three factors are shown in Table 10. On math proficiency (measured by response accuracy), ESCS had a positive effect across the three countries. Gender can predict math proficiency (males had higher math proficiency than females) in Denmark and Sweden but not in Norway. Experience with pure math at school (ExPureM) positively predicted math achievement in Sweden and Norway but not in Denmark. The ICT score negatively predicted math achievement in only Denmark. This means that the greater the ICT use at school and at home in Denmark was, the lower the math achievement on the three analysed items.
Regarding response time, the higher the ESCS was, the greater the response time required to answer items in Denmark. There was no gender difference in response time across the three countries. For Norwegian students, more experience with pure math at school led to longer response times when answering computerbased math problems. However, this positive relationship did not exist in Denmark or Sweden.
Regarding exploration behaviours, measured by frequency of actions, higher ESCS led to more exploration behaviours in Denmark, whereas there was no SES effect in Sweden or Norway. Gender differences in exploration behaviours existed only in Sweden. Experience with pure math at school positively predicted exploration behaviours for Swedish and Norwegian students. For Danish students, experience with application math at school positively predicted exploration behaviours as well. Overall, the more experience the students had with pure or application math tasks at school, the more frequently they interacted with the computer program when solving math problems.
In summary, we found that a higher ESCS consistently led to higher math proficiency. Norway did not have any gender differences in any math proficiency, speed, or exploration behaviours. Experience with math tasks at school led to more exploration behaviours across the three countries. Swedish and Norwegian students who had more experience with pure math tasks at school received higher mathematics achievement scores and tended to interact more frequently with the testing platform when responding to the three math items. When Danish students had higher ICT scores, that is, more available ICT at their school and home, they had lower response accuracy. There was no effect of ICT on the three factors among Swedish and Norwegian students.
Discussion
This study is among the first to employ joint modelling of students’ performance, process data indicators, and contextual variables to analyse data from Scandinavian students via the PISA. Focusing on an explorative framework, we have aimed to gain insights into students’ characteristics and overt behaviours when answering mathematic tasks. This study may also provide insights into how effective and equitable school practices are in Scandinavia countries in regards to allowing the exploration of the effect of contextual factors on latent constructs (i.e., mathematic performance, speed, and exploration behaviour).
The results from exploring our first research question show that De Boeck & Scalise’s (2019) factor model for the observed measures of performance and process data is supported by the evidence for latent constructs (i.e., latent performance, latent speed, and latent exploration behaviour) on the three PISA 2012 math tasks. The results addressing the second research question, built upon the results for the first, show that the weak invariance model fits the data best. Because the weak invariance model allows meaningful comparisons between factor variance and covariance across the different countries, the results for our third research question show that contextual variables may also help explain the variability among the latent factors and across countries. For instance, students from Sweden and Norway who had more exposure to pure math tasks at school were more likely to receive higher mathematics scores and tended to interact more with the item features when completing the three math tasks.
Our findings provide important insights for research on CBAM. For example, they demonstrate the potentialities of extracting process data indicators from log files to better understand how intensively students interact with test features and how they relate to students’ performance. We believe our analysis and log file data management for the extraction of the process indicators (i.e., response times and frequency of actions) can be generalized to other interactive items beyond our chosen unit (i.e., CD production) and in different domains. This is also of great interest in the context of international surveys; it can open new avenues for a better understanding of the similarities and differences in the outcomes of these indicators among students from different countries.
Our primary interest in this study, however, was not to advance theory in the field of CBAM but to showcase how different sources of data (i.e., process data and selfreported data from questionnaires) can be exploited to produce new information and knowledge regarding educational outcomes when comparing the PISA data of participating countries. By analysing Scandinavian data, this study adds to the understanding of the similarities and differences in students’ performance and behaviour indicators on an international survey. Findings from the OECD (2013) indicate that students’ performances on the PISA 2012 computerbased assessment of mathematics across these three countries were not significantly different. Our study, however, has highlighted the differences in how students from Scandinavia approach PISA test items by moving beyond response accuracy.
Concerning the interpretation of our results, we see broad implications for researchers and stakeholders interested in this field. At an assessment level, the increased availability of finegrained log files from computerbased tests can facilitate a major step towards the measurement of latent constructs in addition to students’ performance. At a methodological level, in turn, the use of latent regression modelling can address the relationships among observed measures and these latent factors; this can be attractive to and of great potential for researchers in various contexts.
The findings of our work should be considered in light of several limitations that can be considered opportunities for future research. First, we focused our analyses on two types of process indicators (i.e., response times and frequency of actions), but the number of potential behaviour variables that can be extracted from log files is unlimited. We also defined the number of keyups available in log files from the analysed items as single actions, not the students’ final choices (i.e., numerical value included in the textbox). In this case, the absolute number of actions may have been inflated due to this limitation from the PISA 2012 log files. However, we believe that our findings were not affected by this issue, since students received the same data management (i.e., more keyup actions indicated more interaction with test items). Second, the 2012 PISA’s rotated scheme for students’ questionnaire makes it impossible to incorporate some context variables into the model because of missing patterns. For example, a contextual variable of “Familiarity with Mathematical Concepts” was missing, by design, for all Norwegian students. Thus, incorporating it into the model was not possible with the available data. Third, response accuracy was analysed as a continuous indicator in this study because the maximum likelihood estimator was not supported for the ordinal data in lavaan. The measurement model for response accuracy should be considered with caution. Adopting the WLSMV estimator is a general way to model ordinal data and allowed us to establish an accurate measurement model for response accuracy. However, WLSMV met the convergence problem of a nonpositive definite covariance matrix between latent variables for Norway when we applied a latent regression model. This problem mirrors previous studies that have reported how the covariance matrix between latent variables is biased when the sample size is relatively small (Li, 2016). A larger sample size can enable the convergence of the models with WLSMV, but such a sample size was not feasible in this study. Although the consequence of using MLR that misspecifies ordinal data is underestimating factor loadings, Li has suggested that MLR outperforms WLSMV in small sample size conditions for the estimation of interfactor correlations. Since the main focus of this study is on the correlations between the three latent factors (which are recovered well under MLR, even for categorical and count data) and how the latent factors are explained by the covariates across the analysed countries, the CFA with MLR estimator has proven to be useful for model mixed indicators. Finally, we tried to capture as many relationships among indicators and factors as possible in our modelling, but we acknowledge that possibly equivalent models may exist. We also acknowledge that there is a possible nonlinear relationship between the three latent constructs and that the intraindividual relationship between time and performance factors might be different for students at lower or higher proficiency levels. These nuances were not captured in our modelling, but they may be an interesting topic for further research.
Other than response time and frequency of actions, the future study should consider the sequence of actions in responding items into the framework of crosscountry comparison and measurement invariance examination. The sequence of actions to respond to items has been utilized in methodological studies (Chen, 2020; Han et al., 2019; He et al., 2022; Tang et al., 2020; Ulitzsch et al., 2021). The crosscountry comparisons based on the approaches above could be valuable for future studies in the largescale assessment field.
Due to the exploratory nature of this work, evaluating why some contextual variables significantly relate to specific latent factors (e.g., why Danish students with more ICT available at school and at home had lower response accuracy) is beyond its scope. Notably, however, the PISA data are crosssectional, which prevents causal assertions based on this study’s findings. Further work is needed to better explain the effects of contextual variables among Scandinavian countries.
Availability of data and materials
The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.
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Acknowledgements
We have to express our appreciation to our colleagues from the Frontier Research in Educational Measurement (FREMO) research group at the Center for Educational Measurement, University of Oslo (CEMO) for sharing their pearls of wisdom with us during the course of this research.
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This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or organizations for the submitted work.
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DRC conceptualized the topic, and CWC conducted the statistical analyses. All authors contributed equally to the development of the ideas and the writing and revising of the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
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Dr. Denise Reis Costa is a Postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Research, Cancer Registry of Norway. Her research interests focus on statistical modeling, psychometrics, machine learning techniques, largescale assessments, and register data.
Dr. ChiaWen Chen is Postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Educational Measurement, University of Oslo. His research interests focus on the item response theory model, computerized adaptive testing, forcedchoice items, and Rasch analysis.
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Appendices
Appendix A
Correlation between indicators and manifest variables
Variable  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16 

1. Accuracy 1  1  
2. Accuracy 2  0.214  1  
3. Accuracy 3  0.350  0.386  1  
4. Response time 1 (min)  0.148  0.024  0.129  1  
5. Response time 2 (min)  0.250  0.226  0.405  0.429  1  
6. Response time 3 (min)  0.252  0.212  0.484  0.401  0.602  1  
7. Frequency of action 1  0.170  0.087  0.133  0.241  0.113  0.128  1  
8. Frequency of action 2  0.210  0.340  0.369  0.071  0.391  0.213  0.151  1  
9. Frequency of action 3  0.326  0.247  0.596  0.151  0.312  0.473  0.209  0.322  1  
10. ICTHOME  − 0.073  − 0.079  − 0.039  − 0.102  − 0.089  − 0.082  − 0.028  − 0.072  − 0.060  1  
11. ICTSCH  − 0.009  − 0.069  − 0.056  − 0.033  − 0.042  − 0.015  − 0.011  − 0.057  − 0.022  0.230  1  
12. HOMSCH  0.021  0.010  0.011  0.022  0.035  0.079  − 0.010  − 0.042  0.046  0.191  0.241  1  
13. USEMATH  − 0.048  0.032  − 0.018  − 0.049  − 0.004  0.007  0.031  − 0.011  − 0.026  0.167  0.212  0.206  1  
14. USESCH  − 0.029  − 0.033  − 0.033  − 0.075  − 0.046  − 0.048  − 0.003  − 0.019  − 0.005  0.172  0.271  0.530  0.224  1  
15. EXAPPLM  − 0.001  − 0.004  0.027  0.027  0.040  0.059  0.040  0.019  0.015  0.098  0.088  0.145  0.035  0.070  1  
16. EXPUREM  0.025  0.059  0.104  0.093  0.093  0.101  0.007  0.044  0.078  − 0.011  − 0.023  0.013  0.014  − 0.009  0.478  1 
17. ESCS  0.096  0.156  0.193  0.016  0.131  0.160  0.075  0.078  0.090  0.222  0.056  0.126  0.047  0.087  0.013  0.073 
Appendix B
Descriptive analysis of the indicators in their original metrics for Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, separately
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Costa, D.R., Chen, CW. Exploring the relationship between process data and contextual variables among Scandinavian students on PISA 2012 mathematics tasks. Largescale Assess Educ 11, 5 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s4053602300155x
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s4053602300155x