Progress Toward Quality K-12 STEM Education: Resources for Policymakers, Researchers and Educators | SRI International

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Progress Toward Quality K-12 STEM Education: Resources for Policymakers, Researchers and Educators

Sarah Gerard, Claire Christensen

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education quality has a major impact on economic prosperity. In the 20th century, more than half of the growth in income per capita in the United States was due to advances in science and technology. Yet today, 15-year-olds in the U.S. score below their counterparts in 21 countries on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) math literacy scale, and below 15 countries on the PISA science literacy scale. And while there has been some growth in recent years, American girls and minorities are still less likely to participate and achieve in STEM subjects and careers.

What can be done to move the needle on STEM education? While the United States has the ability to measure outputs of the educational system, such as student test scores and career choices, the U.S. does very little to measure key inputs of STEM education quality – the components in the “black box” of education that influence student achievement and career interests. We can’t improve what we don’t measure – and it’s time for the United States to start paying attention to aspects of STEM teaching and learning that can enhance all students’ STEM interest and competencies.

Students at graduation

The National Research Council (NRC) highlights 14 indicators of progress in the nation’s STEM education, including student learning, educators’ capacity, and policy and funding initiatives. Their 2013 report, Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education, argues that collecting data on these indicators can inform monitoring and improve STEM education. This K-12 STEM Education indicator system can illuminate areas where improvement is needed and education practices should be modified—such as the amount of time devoted to elementary school science. Such a system of indicators is designed to drive improvement, not to serve as a formal accountability system.

Measuring the K-12 STEM Education Indicators: A Road Map

SRI developed a roadmap for measuring and reporting on the NRC’s 14 STEM Education Indicators. The roadmap presents available data on each indicator, as well as an agenda to support the collection of enhanced data in the future. This roadmap may be of interest to researchers, as it describes necessary future research to improve measurement of STEM education quality.

Implications of the K-12 STEM Education Indicators: Concept Papers

In addition, three education policy experts contributed concept papers that explore the research and policy implications of the indicators system. Together, these papers can guide policymakers, researchers, and educators through the potential implications and implementation of the STEM education indicator system.  

   1. Using Indicator Data to Drive K-12 STEM Improvements in States & Districts: Implications for Leaders & Policymakers

Michael Lach of the University of Chicago details how district and state education leaders might use the indicator system to improve STEM education. The indicators may raise leaders’ awareness and prioritization of key issues in STEM education, including quality STEM instructional materials, leadership for principals, and time allocated to teach science. His paper can be found here.

   2. Measuring the Quantity & Quality of the K-12 STEM Teacher Pipeline

Teacher preparation affects student achievement, as well as teachers’ evaluations and persistence in teaching. Suzanne Wilson of University of Connecticut discusses how traditional measures of teacher preparation are only weakly related to student outcomes. Wilson highlights the NRC’s enhanced indicators of teacher preparation: science and mathematics content knowledge for teaching, and participation in STEM-specific professional development activities. It reviews state efforts and other projects designed to collect data on these indicators. Her paper can be found here.

   3. 21st Century Science Assessment: The Future is Now

Jim Pellegrino of the University of Illinois at Chicago presents a vision for a balanced and coordinated system of STEM assessments that work together, and with curriculum and instruction, to promote effective science teaching and learning. Such a system would consist of assessments designed to support classroom instruction, assessments designed to monitor science learning on a broader scale, and indicators designed to track opportunity to learn. His paper can be found here.

Together, these documents explore how new indicators of STEM education quality may inform local education leadership, support quality teacher education, and shape meaningful assessment. Further, they guide researchers to consider next steps in the measurement of STEM education quality. Such purposeful collaborations between research and practice are at the heart of efforts to measure K-12 STEM education quality across the United States.