WALTHAM, MA | May 24, 2012
Middle and high school students performed better on science subject tests when their teachers had taken professional development in that same subject, according to a study conducted by EDC researchers published this month by the journal Kappan.
EDC examined the correlation between student scores on the Massachusetts state science assessment (MCAS), and the science professional development offered by the Boston Science Partnership (BSP). BSP includes the Boston Public Schools, University of Massachusetts Boston, and Northeastern University and is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
With support from NSF’s Math Science Partnership program, researchers examined the scores of 34,401 Boston middle and high school students who took the science MCAS and grouped them according to whether their teachers had taken BSP professional development. The data show that the percentage of students who passed the biology, chemistry, and unified science tests was significantly higher for those whose teachers had participated in BSP professional development. The biggest difference was seen in biology: 70 percent of students taught by BSP teachers passed the state test, compared to 55 percent of students taught by non-BSP teachers.
Additionally, a greater percentage of students taught by BSP teachers scored either proficient or advanced (P/A), and a smaller percentage of students scored warning or failing (W/F). In biology, 50 percent of students with a BSP teacher scored P/A and 30 percent scored W/F; for students of non-BSP teachers, 23 percent scored P/A and 46 percent scored W/F.
“In addition to these findings, our study also indicated that timing matters,” said EDC’s Abigail Jurist Levy, a co-author of the study. “Teachers not only have to take the right kind of professional development, they have to take it at the right time—before they teach that subject.” Levy also pointed out, from another study finding, that teachers need to remain in the district and continue to teach the same subject long enough to make a difference.
Approximately 450 Boston Public School teachers took BSP professional development. During the five-year project, 37 workshops, covering biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, earth science, and energy, were offered during the school year and over the summer months.
“The Boston Science Partnership has demonstrated that the right combination of content knowledge and educational pedagogy in professional development makes a real difference in improving student outcomes in STEM subjects,” said Hannah Sevian, a chemistry professor at UMass Boston and the principal investigator of the BSP.
The full article is available online at www.kappanmagazine.org. Kappan subscribers may access it for free; for others, a fee is required. For more information about the Boston Science Partnership, go to www.bostonscience.org.
Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), is a global nonprofit organization that addresses some of the world’s most urgent challenges in education, health, and economic development. EDC manages 350 projects in 35 countries. Visit edc.org.