Biology

Supporting Large Scale Change in Science Education: Understanding Professional Development and Adoption Variation Related to the Revised Advanced Placement Curriculum (PD-RAP)

This proposal leverages the re-design of the Advanced Placement (AP) curricula currently under way to study the impact of teacher professional development on student achievement in a natural experiment at scale. In addition to supporting the improvement of professional development of AP teachers by the College Board, the findings contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between professional development and student achievement more generally.

Award Number: 
1221861
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/15/2012 to Wed, 08/31/2016
Full Description: 

This proposal leverages the re-design of the Advanced Placement (AP) curricula currently under way to study the impact of teacher professional development on student achievement in a natural experiment at scale. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Boston, Harvard University, the University of Michigan, and the Education Development Center, Inc are conducting a quasi-experimental research study to examine the professional development experienced by AP Biology, Chemistry and Physics teachers to determines 1) the relationship between teacher and school characteristics and the professional development patterns that teachers choose; 2) the relationship between the professional development patterns that various types of teachers choose and their students' outcomes; and 3) the challenges encountered in delivering various forms of professional development at this level of scale. In addition to supporting the improvement of professional development of AP teachers by the College Board, the findings contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between professional development and student achievement more generally.

This study uses the existing context of the AP Course Audit by which all teachers of AP courses submit a syllabus, descriptions of laboratory investigations, and information regarding contact hours and the background of teachers, including the professional development programs accessed. The teachers who submit audits will be surveyed using the Stages of Concern Questionnaire together with other items to determine their perceptions of the AP Science redesign. The experiences of over 20,000 teachers are examined over the course of the study. Teachers who participate in AP professional development conducted by the College Board and the Active AP online Teacher Community (APoTC) will be surveyed about their professional development experiences. Case studies of 40 using interview, elaborated survey items, and artifacts from their teaching provide information about the quality of the teacher implementation of the AP course. Scores on the AP exams of all of the students will be linked to the teachers and the relationships among those scores and teacher professional development experiences analyzed using multi-level regression analyses.

The findings from this study have considerable importance for those individuals who provide professional development for science teachers. The results will inform the College Board and others who provide professional development directly to AP science teachers about how that support needs to change in order to more effectively support teachers. Improving the support that AP teachers receive has the potential to improve the learning experiences of the students who participate in those classes. In addition, this study will provide information about issues and challenges to providing professional development at scale to a wider audience of professional development providers. As the Next Generation Science Standards come online, this information will be useful to policy makers and practitioners.

SimScientists Assessments: Physical Science Links

The goal of this project is to develop and validate a middle school physical science assessment strand composed of four suites of simulation-based assessments for integrating into balanced (use of multiple measures), large-scale accountability science testing systems. It builds on the design templates, technical infrastructure, and evidence of the technical quality, feasibility, and instructional utility of the NSF-funded Calipers II project. The evaluation plan addresses both formative and summative aspects.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1221614
Funding Period: 
Mon, 10/01/2012 to Fri, 09/30/2016
Full Description: 

The goal of this project is to develop and validate a middle school physical science assessment strand composed of four suites of simulation-based assessments for integrating into balanced (use of multiple measures), large-scale accountability science testing systems. It builds on the design templates, technical infrastructure, and evidence of the technical quality, feasibility, and instructional utility of the NSF-funded Calipers II project. The assessment strand consists of multilevel (increased thinking levels) assessment designs grounded on evidence-centered principles that target practices and key disciplinary conceptual schemes, such as matter, motion, energy, and waves identified in the National Research Council report "A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Knowledge, and Core Ideas". The assessment model vertically links simulations (interactive with feedback to students, coaching, and reflection); curriculum-embedded assessments for formative use; unit benchmark assessment for interim summative purposes; and a set of "signature tasks" (short-term simulations on recurring problem types). Members of the Advisory Board and an Assessment Review Panel actively participate in the development and implementation of this effort. Heller Research Associates is the external evaluator. The evaluation plan addresses both formative and summative aspects.

The project's theory of action is based on model-based learning and evidence-centered design reflective of the notion that the construct of science is multidimensional, requiring (a) understanding how the components of a science conceptual system interact to produce behaviors of the system; and (b) the use of inquiry practices to investigate the dynamic behaviors and underlying components' interactions of the system. A total of eight research and development questions guide the scope of work. The questions focus on: (a) validity (substantive and technical quality) of the individual simulation assessments; and (b) classroom implementation (feasibility, fidelity, utility). The methodology for test construction and revision follows the testing standards of major professional organizations (i.e., American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council of Measurement in Education) through three development phases. Phase I (Assessment Development) focuses on the alignment, quality, and prototype testing, including leverage and modification of prior work, and design of new assessment suites and signature tasks. Phase II (Pilot and Validation Studies) deals with the testing of all assessments, research instruments, and study methods. Phase III (Cross-Validation Studies) substantiates the multilevel integration assessment model, cross-validates the assessments piloted in Phase II, and establishes a reliable argument that the assessments measure the intended content and inquiry practices suitable for use in district and state-level assessment systems.

Expected outcomes are: (1) a research-informed and field-tested physical science simulations-based assessment model with high potential for extended use in middle school grades; and (2) a policy brief that provides recommendations for integrating assessments into districts and state large-scale, multi-level, balanced science assessments.

Unifying Life: Placing Urban Tree Diversity in an Evolutionary Context

This 3-year project seeks to develop and test curricular resources built around handheld mobile technology to study how these materials foster urban middle school student engagement with and learning of local biodiversity and the patterns of evolution.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1221188
Funding Period: 
Sun, 07/15/2012 to Tue, 06/30/2015
Full Description: 

City College of New York (CUNY) is conducting a 3-year exploratory project to develop and test curricular resources built around handheld mobile technology to study how these materials foster urban middle school student interest and engagement with local biodiversity and the patterns of evolution. The project aims to develop curricular resources for middle school students around Leafsnap, an iPhone tree identification app, through a co-design process; to pilot test curricular resources in the classrooms of three New York middle school teachers; to develop and revise assessment tools to measure student outcomes; and to field-test curricular resources in the classrooms of ten New York middle school teachers and analyze results to determine how the Leafsnap curriculum affects urban middle school student learning of biodiversity and the patterns of evolution. The results will be used to modify and disseminate curriculum online with the Leafsnap app.

During the project's first year, the curricular resources will be used in two East Harlem middle schools. In the second year, the resources will be used in the classrooms of ten New York City (NYC) public middle school teachers. In the third year, these resources will be integrated into a life science for middle school teachers course as part of CUNY's graduate program in secondary science education, a program specifically designed to prepare teacher candidates for careers in NYC public middle schools. Also, in the project's third year, the curricular resources will be disseminated through the Leafsnap website to a wider online audience.

The project advances understanding of underrepresented urban middle school student learning of local biodiversity in a historical evolutionary context by addressing the three major dimensions of the new Framework for K-12 Science Learning: core science content, the practice of science, and concepts that crosscut all scientific disciplines. Pre- and post-treatment clinical interviews with students will be conducted to provide qualitative insights into how use of the Leafsnap curriculum impacts students' understanding and motivation for identifying and organizing tree diversity.

Videocases for Science Teaching Analysis Plus (ViSTA Plus): Efficacy of a Videocase-Based, Analysis-of-Practice Teacher Preparation Program

The new ViSTA Plus study explores implementation of a program for pre-service/beginning teachers that is fully centered on learning from an analysis-of-practice perspective, addressing the central research question of "What is the value of a videocase-based, analysis-of-practice approach to elementary science teacher preparation?" The project is producing science-specific, analysis-of-practice materials to support the professional development of teacher educators and professional development leaders using the ViSTA Plus program at universities and in district-based induction programs.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1220635
Funding Period: 
Wed, 08/01/2012 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

Prior studies have demonstrated the positive impact of content-specific videocases of other teachers' practice on science content knowledge and ability to analyze teaching when the videocases are incorporated in the methods courses for preservice teachers. Similar outcomes occurred for experienced, inservice teachers in a year-long professional development that included analyzing video of their own and others' teaching, and these teachers changed their practice in ways that influenced students' science learning. The new ViSTA Plus study explores implementation of a 2-year program for preservice/beginning teachers that is fully centered on learning from an analysis-of-practice perspective, addressing the central research question of "What is the value of a videocase-based, analysis-of-practice approach to elementary science teacher preparation?"

ViSTA Plus presents a distinctive version of practice-based teacher education, one that immerses teachers into practice via scaffolded, collaborative analyses of videocases - starting with analysis of other teachers' videocases and moving to collaborative analysis of teachers' own videocases. The ViSTA Plus conceptual framework supports teachers in using Student Thinking and Science Content Storyline Lenses to analyze science teaching and in using a set of teaching strategies that support use of each of these lenses in their planning and teaching. Through this analysis work, teachers deepen their science content knowledge, develop the ability to analyze teaching and learning, and improve their teaching and their students' learning. The current study incorporates a quasi-experimental design to compare the impact of the ViSTA Plus program to that of traditional teacher preparation programs when implemented at universities that serve diverse populations, especially Native American, Hispanic, and low-SES students. Teacher measures are assessing science content knowledge (pre, mid, and posttests), ability to analyze science teaching and learning (pre, mid, and post video analysis tasks), and teaching practice (videorecorded lessons during student teaching and first year of teaching). Elementary students' science achievement is being assessed using pre-post unit tests during student teaching and the first year of teaching.

The study design addresses a gap in the research on preservice teacher preparation by following the pathway of program influence from teacher learning to teaching practice to student learning, and accomplishes this in the context of ViSTA Plus, an alternative, practice-based approach to teacher preparation that embeds all phases of teacher learning in practice from the beginning. Partner universities in this effort are eager to reimagine the traditional teacher preparation sequence, offering new models for the field. The project is producing science-specific, analysis-of-practice materials (videocases, methods course guides, study group guides) to support the professional development of teacher educators and professional development leaders using the ViSTA Plus program at universities and in district-based induction programs.

Morehouse College DR K-12 Pre-service STEM Teacher Initiative

This project recruited high school African American males to begin preparation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics teaching careers. The goal of the program was to recruit and prepare students for careers in secondary mathematics and science teaching thus increasing the number of African Americans students in STEM. The research will explore possible reasons why the program is or is not successful for recruiting and retaining students in STEM Teacher Education programs  

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1119512
Funding Period: 
Fri, 07/15/2011 to Sat, 06/30/2018
Project Evaluator: 
Melissa K. Demetrikopoulos
Full Description: 

Morehouse College proposed a research and development project to recruit high school African American males to begin preparation for secondary school science, technology, engineering and mathematics(STEM) teaching as a career. The major goal of the program is to recruit and prepare students for careers in secondary mathematics and science teaching thus increasing the number of African Americans students in STEM. The research will explore possible reasons why the program is or is not successful for recruiting and retaining students in STEM Teacher Education programs including: (a) How do students who remain in STEM education differ from those who leave and how do these individual factors (e.g. student preparation, self-efficacy, course work outcomes, attitudes toward STEM/STEM education, connectivity to STEM/STEM education communities, learning styles, etc) enhance or inhibit interest in STEM teaching among African American males? (b) What organizational and programmatic factors (e.g. high school summer program, Saturday Academy, pre-freshman program, summer research experience, courses, enhanced mentoring, cyber-infrastructure, college admissions guidance, leadership training, instructional laboratory, program management, faculty/staff engagement and availability, Atlanta Public Schools and Morehouse College articulation and partnership) affect (enhance or inhibit) interest in STEM teaching among African American males?

This pre-service program for future secondary STEM teachers recruits promising African American male students in eleventh grade and prepares them for entry into college.  The program provides academic guidance and curriculum-specific activities for college readiness, and creates preparation for secondary science and math teaching careers.   This project is housed within the Division of Science and Mathematics at Morehouse College and engages in ongoing collaboration with the Atlanta Public School (APS) system and Fulton County School District (FCS). The APS-FCS-MC collaboration fosters access and success of underrepresented students through (a) early educational intervention practices; (b) enhanced academic preparation; and (c) explicit student recruitment. 

The program consists of six major program components: High School Summer Program; Saturday Academy I, II, and III; Pre-Freshman Summer Program; and Summer Research Experience, which begins in the summer between the student’s junior and senior years of high school and supports the student through his sophomore year of college.  To date, collaborations between education and STEM faculty as well as between Morehouse, APS, and FCS faculty have resulted in development and implementation of all six program components.   Students spent six weeks in an intensive summer program with a follow-up Saturday Academy during their senior year before formally beginning their academic careers at Morehouse College. The program integrates STEM education with teacher preparation and mentoring in order to develop secondary teachers who have mastery in both a STEM discipline as well as educational theory. 

This pre-service program for future teachers recruited promising eleventh grade African American male students from the Atlanta Public School District to participate in a four-year program that will track them into the Teacher Preparation program at Morehouse College. The research focuses on the utility and efficacy of early recruitment of African American male students to STEM teaching careers as a mechanism to increase the number of African American males in STEM teaching careers.

Teaching Evolution Through Human Examples (TEtHE)

This three-year exploratory research and development project is assessing how the use of resource activities and teaching strategies focused on human evolution will affect the understanding, teaching and learning of evolution by high school AP biology teachers and students. The project will develop resource activities and teaching strategies with and for high school biology teachers. Professional development will also provide teachers with guidance on how to incorporate the activities and strategies into the classroom.  

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1119468
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Sun, 08/31/2014
Project Evaluator: 
The Study Group
Full Description: 

Teaching Evolution through Human Examples (TEtHE), a three-year exploratory research and development project, is assessing how the use of resource activities and teaching strategies focused on human evolution will affect the understanding, teaching and learning of evolution by high school AP biology teachers and students. The guiding questions of the proposed project are 1) In what ways does using examples of human evolution to teach basic evolutionary concepts affect understanding of evolution among high school students? 2) In what ways do teaching strategies that focus on positive dialogue about human evolution help teachers overcome cultural challenges to teaching evolution concepts? 3) In what ways does using examples of human evolution to teach basic evolutionary concepts in conjunction with teaching strategies that focus on positive dialogue about human evolution affect understanding of evolution among high school students? TEtHE project will contribute to the field of evolution education, which is lacking on whether using teaching materials with a human emphasis along with strategies that increase teacher comfort and confidence in teaching evolution lead to greater understanding of evolution.

Project evaluation will focus on refining teaching materials and strategies and testing their efficacy in pilot studies in cooperation with the College Board and its professional development programs for the newly restructured AP course in biology. Studies include: independent assessment of teacher satisfaction with the resource activities as well as confidence and ease in use of the materials, independent review of the materials by the Advisory boards, and survey of all participating teachers to identify ways the materials were used. When addressing each question, the team will investigate validity, feasibility, usefulness, appropriateness, and student results. Methods for collection include: observation, open-response surveys, open-ended interviews, content assessments, and attitudinal surveys. The primary investigator is the Smithsonian Institute; the National Academies Teacher Advisory Board, the Understanding Evolution Teacher Advisor Board, and AP biology teachers from Washington DC serve as co-developers. The project has an external evaluator as well as an advisory board.

The TEtHE project will develop resource activities and teaching strategies with and for high school biology teachers. Professional development will also provide teachers with guidance on how to incorporate the activities and strategies into the classroom. The TEtHE project, over the course of three years, will involve over 100 AP biology teachers which will translate to reaching over 2000 AP biology students. The resources will be widely disseminated online at the end of the project, at national conferences, in national publications, and long range plans include incorporation into the national AP biology curriculum. This project could serve as a model for expanding effective methods for teaching evolution to Biology 1 classes, and contribute to an understanding of how to approach the teaching of scientific topics that intersect religious, ethical, and other areas of societal concern.

InterLACE: Interactive Learning and Collaboration Environment

This project designs, constructs, and field-tests a web-based, online collaborative environment for supporting the teaching and learning of inquiry-based high school physics. Based on an interactive digital workbook environment, the team is customizing the platform to include scaffolds and other supports for learning physics, fostering interaction and collaboration within the classroom, and facilitating a design-based approach to scientific experiments.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1119321
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Full Description: 

This project, under the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) designs, constructs, and field-tests a web-based, online collaborative environment for supporting the teaching and learning of inquiry-based high school physics. Based on prior NSF-funded work on RoboBooks, an interactive digital workbook environment, the team is customizing the platform to include scaffolds and other supports for learning physics, fostering interaction and collaboration within the classroom, and facilitating a design-based approach to scientific experiments. The InterLACE team hypothesizes that technology seamlessly integrating physics content and process skills within a classroom learning activity will provide a wide variety of student benefits, ranging from improved learning outcomes and increased content knowledge to gains in attitudinal and social displays as well.

The hypothesis for this work is based on research that indicates teachers believe proper implementation of design-based, inquiry projects are time consuming and can be difficult to manage and facilitate in classrooms without great scaffolding or other supports. Using design-based research with a small number of teachers and students, the PIs iteratively develop the system and supporting materials and generate a web-based implementation that supports students through the various stages of design inquiry. A quasi-experimental trial in the final years of the project is used to determine the usability of the technology and efficacy of the system in enhancing teaching and learning. Through the tools and activities developed, the researchers anticipate showing increases in effective inquiry learning and enhanced accessibility to meet the needs of diverse learners and teachers, leading to changes in classroom practice.

Through this project the PIs (1) gain insights that will enable them to refine the InterLACE platform so it can be implemented and brought to scale in the near terms as a support for design-based inquiry science projects, and (2) advance theory, design and practice to support the design of technology-based learning environments, and (3) understand how connecting students? hypotheses, ideas, and data impacts their learning of physics content and scientific inquiry skills.

Designing an Integrated Framework for Genetics Education to Develop Innovative Curricula and Assessments

This project is developing a model for integrating best practices in technology-supported instructional design and formative assessment for genetics instruction in upper elementary, middle and high school. Using the Web-based Inquiry Science Environment platform, the project is developing school curriculum that scaffold and model scientific practices, enable students to interface with real-world problems, provide opportunities for students to make connections between visible phenomena and underlying genetic processes, and promote student monitoring and reflection on learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1119055
Funding Period: 
Mon, 08/15/2011 to Tue, 07/31/2012
Full Description: 

Michigan State University is developing a model for integrating best practices in technology-supported instructional design and formative assessment for genetics instruction in upper elementary, middle and high school. The project partners with an urban school district in Texas and a suburban school district in Michigan. The objectives are: (1) to articulate a detailed standards- and research-base conceptual framework for describing students' conceptions of genetics and how students develop a full understanding of genetics across grade spans (upper elementary, middle and high school); (2) to develop innovative instructional materials and embedded assessments that provide richer information about students' conceptual understanding of genetics and help practitioners make decisions about what to do next in instruction; and (3) to examine the implementation of these instructional materials and assessments to investigate students' understanding of genetics concepts.

Using the Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE) 4.0 platform (a technology-rich learning environment), the project is developing a 5-week elementary, middle, and secondary school curriculum models that scaffold and model scientific practices, enable students to interface with real-world problems, provide opportunities for students to make connections between visible phenomena and underlying genetic processes, and promote student monitoring and reflection on their learning. Each module will include animation- and stimulation-based contexts in WISE to provide rich occasions to press for building and developing reasoning and explanations. To promote teachers' use of student responses in formative ways, the materials will offer clear guidance about how to make evidence-based instructional decisions as well as provide options for contingent instruction activities that can be used to address persistent or common non-normative ways of reasoning.

The research offers generalizable approaches on the principled design of embedded assessments in WISE 4.0 and on using these assessments formatively. A quasi-experimental study employing a cross-sectional and longitudinal comparison design will investigate the development of students' understanding of genetics-related ideas from upper elementary to the high school years.

Energy: A Multidisciplinary Approach for Teachers (EMAT) Designing and Studying a Multidisciplinary, Online Course for High School Teachers

This project will iteratively design, develop, field test, refine, and rigorously study a six-unit, facilitated, online professional development (PD) course focusing on energy-related concepts in the context of alternative energy. The primary audience is high school science teachers teaching out of their field of endorsement and serving students underrepresented in the sciences. The project will investigate whether the PD will precipitate changes in teacher knowledge and practice that result in higher student achievement.

Award Number: 
1118643
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Thu, 08/31/2017
Project Evaluator: 
RMC Research Corporation
Full Description: 

The Energy: A Multidisciplinary Approach for Teachers (EMAT) project will iteratively design, develop, field test, refine, and rigorously study a seven-unit, facilitated, online professional development (PD) course focusing on energy-related concepts in the context of alternative energy. The primary audience is high school science teachers teaching out of their field of endorsement and serving students underrepresented in the sciences. The project will investigate whether the PD will precipitate changes in teacher knowledge and practice that result in higher student achievement. As a result, EMAT will improve the science achievement of underrepresented students and enhance their future participation in science. Biological Sciences Curriculum Study and partners Oregon Public Broadcasting, the National Teacher Enhancement Network, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, and RMC Research Corporation bring significant resources and are highly qualified to develop and research EMAT.

The EMAT project advances knowledge in the field of teacher professional development by merging two facets of PD that have hitherto been studied separately and testing hypotheses about the degree to which this pairing enhances learning and practice. These facets are structured constructivist experiences and experiences grounded in situated cognition learning theory. Teachers reflect on research-based teaching practices in the lesson analysis process through Science Content Storyline and Student Thinking lenses. EMAT tests longitudinal impacts on teachers' content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and teaching practices and students' content knowledge, contributing much needed data for future PD projects. EMAT also studies which aspects of online environments are most effective for teachers. Data collected will inform full revisions of the course and will help address significant gaps in our understanding of online PD.

EMAT advances the field's understanding of which elements of online PD are effective and the extent to which high-quality online PD translates to improved student learning. Simultaneously, the project develops and tests a scalable, flexible resource to enhance teacher learning and practice. As a result, EMAT will have a broad impact by promoting research-based teaching and learning while advancing discovery and understanding. Furthermore, by targeting the recruitment of teacher participants from large urban districts with high numbers of teachers teaching out of field, EMAT impacts students traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. EMAT will not only contribute to the research on PD, but also will be available for use in diverse settings. A facilitation guide allows the course to be freely used by school districts and teacher education and certification programs across the country. In addition, the facilitated course will be offered for graduate credit through the National Teacher Enhancement Network and will be freely available to individuals for independent study. Results of all research and evaluation will be published in science education journals and practitioner journals for teachers, and presented to PD groups at conferences. EMAT will benefit society by impacting teacher and student understanding of energy-related concepts, thereby increasing the capacity of U.S. citizens to creatively address energy challenges from a foundation of scientifically sound knowledge.

Multiple Instrumental Case Studies of Inclusive STEM-Focused High Schools: Opportunity Structures for Preparation and Inspiration (OSPrl)

The aim of this project is to examine opportunity structures provided to students by inclusive STEM-focused high schools, with an emphasis on studying schools that serve students from underrepresented groups. The project is studying inclusive STEM-focused high schools across the United States to determine what defines them. The research team initially identified ten candidate critical components that define STEM-focused high schools and is refining and further clarifying the critical components through the research study.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1118851
Funding Period: 
Thu, 09/01/2011 to Mon, 08/31/2015
Full Description: 

The aim of this project is to examine opportunity structures provided to students by inclusive STEM-focused high schools, with an emphasis on studying schools that serve students from underrepresented groups. In contrast to highly selective STEM-focused schools that target students who are already identified as gifted and talented in STEM, inclusive STEM-focused high schools aim to develop new sources of STEM talent, particularly among underrepresented minority students, to improve workforce development and prepare STEM professionals. A new NRC report, Successful K-12 STEM Education (2011), identifies areas in which research on STEM-focused schools is most needed. The NRC report points out the importance of providing opportunities for groups that are underrepresented in the sciences, especially Blacks, Hispanics, and low-income students who disproportionately fall out of the high-achieving group in K-12 education. This project responds specifically to the call for research in the NRC report and provides systematic data to define and clarify the nature of such schools. 

The project is studying inclusive STEM-focused high schools across the United States to determine what defines them. The research team initially identified ten candidate critical components that define STEM-focused high schools and is refining and further clarifying the critical components through the research study. The first phase of the study is focusing on 12 well-established and carefully planned schools with good reputations and strong community and business support, in order to capture the critical components as intended and implemented. Case studies of these high-functioning schools and a cross-case analysis using a set of instruments for gauging STEM design and implementation are contributing toward building a theory of action for such schools that can be applied more generally to STEM education. The second phase of the study involves selecting four school models for further study, focusing on student-level experiences and comparing student outcomes against comprehensive schools in the same district. Research questions being studied include: 1) Is there a core set of likely critical components shared by well-established, promising inclusive STEM-focused high schools? Do other components emerge from the study? 2) How are the critical components implemented in each school? 3) What are the contextual affordances and constraints that influence schools' designs, their implementation, and student outcomes? 4) How do student STEM outcomes in these schools compare with school district and state averages? 5) How do four promising such schools compare with matched comprehensive high schools within their respective school districts, and how are the critical components displayed? 6) From the points of view of students underrepresented in STEM fields, how do education experiences at the schools and their matched counterparts compare? And 7) How do student outcomes compare?

The research uses a multiple instrumental case study design in order to describe and compare similar phenomena. Schools as critical cases are being selected through a nomination process by experts, followed by screening and categorization according to key design dimensions. Data sources include school documents and public database information; a survey, followed by telephone interviews that probe for elaborated information, to provide a systematic overview of the candidate components; on-site visitations to each school provide data on classroom observations at the schools; interviews with students, teachers and administrators in focus groups; and discussions with critical members of the school community that provide unique opportunities to learn such as mentors, business leaders, and members of higher education community that provide outside of school learning experiences. The project is also gathering data on a variety of school-level student outcome indicators, and is tracking the likely STEM course trajectories for students, graduation rates, and college admission rates for students in the inclusive STEM-focused schools, as compared to other schools in the same jurisdiction. Analysis of the first phase of the study aims to develop rich descriptions that showcase characteristics of the schools, using axial and open coding, to determine a theory of action that illustrates interconnections among context, design, implementation, and outcome elements. Analysis of the second phase of the study involves similar processes on four levels: school, student, databases, and a synthesis of the three. Evaluation of the project consists of an internal advisory board and an external advisory board, both of which provide primarily formative feedback on research procedures.

Research findings, as well as case studies, records of instrument and rubric development and use, annual reports, and conference proposals and papers are being provided on a website, in order to provide an immediate and ongoing resource for education leaders, researchers and policymakers to learn about research on these schools and particular models. An effort is also being made to give voice to the experiences of high school students from the four pairs of high schools studied in the second phase of the study. Findings are also being disseminated by more traditional means, such as papers in peer-reviewed journals and conference presentations.

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