WOW! All children really can learn science and meet the Science Standards!
Reflections from the end:
We are confident that the project has achieved its major objectives and has demonstrated that, with effective implementation of all program elements, student achievement can be improved for all children so that the majority of students meet the Delaware Science Standards. The leadership of the participating school districts has recognized the systemic and collaborative approach used in this program as the preferred model to emulate with all disciplines.
Specific accomplishments include:
An articulated K-8 curriculum has been completed and adopted by all districts. Science specialists working with teachers developed this curriculum through a structured process in which each unit is selected to meet specific grade-level standards, piloted and upgraded as needed based on classroom experience and student work. Delaware specific units were developed if no suitable commercial unit was available. The Coalition also established a process through the curriculum can be continually improved as new units become available or as assessments provide better understanding of what is age appropriate and what works best in the classroom.
To support the curriculum, a state-supported Science Resource Center (SRC) now provides curriculum and classroom materials to all K-8 public and charter schools in the state. The SRC distributed more than 5000 science kits last year and has become a two million dollar service business with costs shared jointly by the state and school districts.
The professional development enables teachers to collaborate over time to improve their understanding of science content, pedagogy and assessment. A significant effort has been placed on the selection and training of instructors to ensure consistency and quality in the professional development. In the last three years, increased emphasis has been given to the development, application and interpretation of summative assessments. These not only help teachers understand what their students are learning, but also guide LSC Leadership in improving curriculum and instruction. One measure of the value of this professional development is that the level of participation has stayed at 1200-1400 teachers each year since 1997 and shows no signs of dropping next year. In addition, the professional development continues to get high ratings from teachers and our external evaluators.
The chart (below) shows the percentage of students in grade 4, 6 and 8 who met the Science Performance Standards in 2000 (when the state began testing science), 2001 and 2002. About 8000 students are tested in each grade.
The grade 4 results show the ultimate payoff, namely that most students are succeeding. The percentage of students meeting the standard statewide increased from 85% in 2000 to 90% in 2002. These numbers are far beyond what anyone would have expected given the status of elementary science before the Coalition began its program. The achievement level (as measure by % meeting the standard) for these Grade 4 students is significantly higher in science than it is in social studies. This is an important comparison as both subjects are taught by the same teachers and are tested at the same time. We interpret this as an indicator that the inquiry-based approach used in science has had a positive impact on all students.
Performance levels for students at the beginning of Grade 6 are lower than those in grade 4, but are increasing more rapidly as the curriculum becomes fully aligned with the Standards and more teachers complete their professional development.
Student performance at Grade 8, with only 43% of the students meeting the standard, is not acceptable. Further the rate of improvement is much lower than in the other grades. This represents unfinished business and a major reason why the Coalition must continue its work including expanding to high school. Additional information on the DSTP results is available at http://www.doe.state.de.us.
The achievement gap between whites and minorities in Grade 4 science averaged about 20% across the state (94.5% of white students met the standard vs. 74.2% of the African American students). The size of the gap, however, varies significantly among the 80 schools. In the top performing 23 schools, the achievement gap varies from +14.3% to - 7.7% with an average of 2.2%. In many of these schools the difference between the performance of whites and AA was not statistically significant. These findings are encouraging as they demonstrate that it is possible to eliminate the achievement gap on a large scale.
However, in the lowest performing 18 schools the gap ranges from 12 to 46% with an average of 22.7%. In each of these schools, more than 85% of white students met the standards. Their lower overall school performance is primarily due to the drop in the performance of African Americans students. The Coalition is currently examining these data in detail to identify and correct the factors that contribute to these differences.
The Coalition Steering Committee, consisting of Science Administrators from each district, representatives from the Dept of Education, higher education and business, meets monthly with LSC leadership to monitor progress, set policy and plan future directions. This Committee has played a major role in bringing about the collaboration and the sharing that has proven to be so valuable. In the last year, the Steering Committee developed the strategic plan to sustain the project beyond the NSF funding. More recently, it has taken a major role in establishing a K-12 math/science partnership that will build on the foundation made by the Coalition.
The Coalition partners have committed to continuing to support and strengthen the network of Science Specialists and Lead Teachers who lead implementation in their individual districts and schools.
PROMOTERS AND INHIBITORS
Numerous elements have been important in the promoting and inhibiting the progress made in this program.
The broad participation by educators, public and business in the development of the Delaware Science Standards prior to the start of the Delaware Science Coalition provided a widely shared consensus on what should be expected of a K-12 science program and strong support for the guiding principle of "educational excellence and equity for all." This greatly facilitated communication across districts, disciplines and grade levels and among all the stakeholders. It helped ensure early support from many sources for the LSC whose purpose was to help teachers meet the standards.
From the beginning, teachers have been one of the most passionate and effective advocates for the program. They valued the opportunity to work with other teachers (a new experience for many of them), the focus on student learning and they observed the positive impact of inquiry-based lessons on their students. As the program grew, more teachers built a sense of ownership by becoming instructors, lead teachers or through their participation in curriculum and assessment development.
A common curriculum was not in our original thinking given the tradition of district autonomy and responsibility for curriculum. It evolved because it facilitated communication among teachers and enabled them to focus on instruction, made professional development more efficient and a common Science Resource Center economically practical. Over time, the Coalition built enough scope into the variety of science units available so that districts are able to customize their curriculum if they wish to.
As the district science leadership participated in the design and implementation of the program, they recognized the benefits they were gaining by sharing scarce resources and talent. The collaborative culture that grew among the districts and the partnership with the state was valuable in influencing and aligning with emerging state policies and practices.
Department of Education leadership became significant stakeholders through their role in establishing the Science Resource Center. Because the program was well aligned with the state's strategic direction, they further helped by getting line item funding in the state budget. Key legislators were instrumental in providing some early pilot funding and benefited from the successes of the program. Many businesses became stakeholders through their financial support for the purchase of classroom materials.
The DSTP provided data that, for the first time, showed how well or poorly students were doing in science. This rewarded teachers who were working to improve and helped gain the attention of those who were reluctant or resistant to change.
Accountability, while onerous at times, has been used to advantage. Accountability provides an incentive to teachers to take needed professional development. Principals pay attention to science achievement when they know that 20% of their school rating will depend upon the school science scores and that the Coalition science program can help a school meet accountability requirements.
To inform stakeholders, the Coalition publicized stories of classroom impact, student successes and information on new curriculum developments through local or state media. Individual schools held science nights or used science at parents' nights to highlight the positive impact of inquiry science.
The Delaware LSC has invested a significant effort in engaging teachers in the development and use of summative assessments to broaden our measures of student achievement and to provide useful information to teachers. These nationally recognized assessments have proved to be a powerful professional development tool in improving teacher understanding of what students are and are not learning and in helping to guide efforts to improve curriculum and student achievement. The assessments, now complete for most K-5 curriculum units, are available at http://www.scienceassessment.org
INHIBITORS/ SUGGESTED ACTIONS
Design the professional development program on the assumption that teacher turnover will be high, and that extensive teacher training will always be needed in a high stakes environment. This means that every newly hired elementary teacher will need significant professional development and mentoring in order to teach any science.
Establish initiative to inform principals about program elements and improve their understanding of inquiry-based teaching.
Rapid program expansion resulted in "choke" points where the demand for teacher professional development training exceeded the capacity of the instructional leadership to handle. This led to drop in the quality of the professional development. Plan to establish program to broaden the cadre of instructional leaders short term and create a long-term succession plan to nurture future science leaders.
Performance in reading and mathematics are typically of more concern to elementary principals and administrators than science. One approach to moderate the impact of this has been to use available research showing that inquiry-based science can have a positive impact on student performance on writing and other subjects. As a second approach, the Coalition is working with the mathematics community to identify common problems and work together on common issues that limit student learning.