Developing a K–12 STEM Education Indicator System

Woman Teacher With Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class

For the National Science Foundation, SRI supported the development of 14 indicators measuring students’ access to quality learning, educators’ capacity, and policy and funding initiatives in K–12 STEM education. 

Policymakers agree that in today’s world, the quality of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education in a country, state, or region has a major impact on its economic prosperity. The results of international assessments of mathematics and science achievement give the U.S. reason for concern about the quality of our STEM education system, and policy reports call attention to the lower levels of achievement and participation on the part of historically underrepresented groups and women in many STEM-related areas, yet we do very little in the way of measuring the key components of that system. It is very hard to improve what you don’t measure. It is time that we started measuring aspects of STEM teaching and learning that, to the best of our current knowledge, can enhance all students’ interest and competencies in STEM.

In 2011, the National Research Council (NRC) convened a working group to synthesize and identify what is known about providing engaging and effective learning opportunities in K–12 STEM. The committee’s conclusions, published in the report Effective K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (National Research Council, 2011) highlight key education research findings with implications for practitioners and policymakers. 

Following this report, Congress asked the National Science Foundation (NSF) to identify methods for tracking progress toward the report’s recommendations. A second NRC committee authored a report developing a set of 14 progress indicators related to students’ access to quality learning, educators’ capacity, and policy and funding initiatives in STEM. This report, Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education(2013), addresses the need for research and data to monitor progress in the K-12 STEM education system and for making informed decisions about improving it. The K-12 STEM education indicators were designed explicitly with the goal of providing information that could be used by policymakers and practitioners to improve STEM education. The indicator system will tell us where the nation as a whole and different kinds of schools and districts stand with respect to practices that can be changed—such as the amount of time devoted to science learning in elementary school. 

SRI supported NSF’s efforts to implement this set of indicators for use by policymakers, researchers, and practitioners to monitor and improve K–12 STEM education. SRI researchers met with dozens of expert stakeholders to refine the understanding and measurement of the indicators, and were mapping pathways for measuring and reporting on the indicators at that time, as well as for collecting enhanced data in the future. Recognizing that many of the indicators require further conceptual work and preliminary research before a data collection plan can be solidified, NSF funded additional grants to advance knowledge about measuring the indicators. SRI pursued methods to more broadly disseminate the research and data collection recommendations stemming from these collective STEM Indicators efforts.

Co-principal investigator

Jessica L. Mislevy

Director of Digital Learning & Technology Policy, SRI Education

Clients and partners

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