Following a 2011 report by the National Research Council (NRC) on successful K-12 education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), Congress asked the National Science Foundation to identify methods for tracking progress toward the report’s recommendations. In response, the NRC convened the Committee on the Evaluation Framework for Successful K-12 STEM Education to take on this assignment.
The committee developed 14 indicators linked to the 2011 report’s recommendations, shown in the table. By providing a focused set of key indicators related to students’ access to quality learning, educators’ capacity, and policy and funding initiatives in STEM, the committee addresses the need for research and data that can be used to monitor progress in the K-12 STEM education system and make informed decisions about improving it.
Our recommended indicators provide a framework for Congress and relevant federal agencies to create and implement a national-level monitoring and reporting system with the capability to:
• assess progress toward key improvements recommended in the 2011 National Research Council report Successful K-12 STEM Education;
• measure student knowledge, interest, and participation in the STEM disciplines and STEM-related activities;
• track financial, human capital, and material investments in K-12 STEM education at the federal, state, and local levels;
• provide information about the capabilities of the STEM-education workforce, including teachers and principals; and
• facilitate strategic planning for federal investments in STEM education and workforce development, when used with labor force projections.
All 14 indicators are intended to form the core of this system. However, the indicators highlighted in bold in the table—2, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 14—reflect the committee’s highest priorities. With the exception of Indicator 14, the priority indicators are nearest to the core of student learning. As such, they represent the points of greatest leverage to improve the education system and student outcomes in the STEM disciplines, and to make progress toward the goals of increasing the number of underrepresented students who pursue science and engineering degrees and careers, expanding the STEM-capable workforce, and increasing science literacy. The committee deemed Indicator 14 as a high priority because it assesses progress in filling critical gaps in knowledge about programs and practices that contribute to the goals of STEM education.
|Recommendations from Successful K-12 STEM Education (2011)||Indicators|
|Districts Should Consider All Three Models of STEM-Focused Schools||1. Number of, and enrollment in, different types of STEM schools and programs in each district.|
|Districts Should Devote Adequate Instructional Time and Resources to Science in Grades K-5||2. Time allocated to teach science in grades K-5.|
|3. Science-related learning opportunities in elementary schools.|
|Districts Should Ensure That Their STEM Curricula Are Focused on the Most Important Topics in Each Discipline, Are Rigorous, and Are Articulated as a Sequence of Topics and Performances||4. Adoption of instructional materials in grades K-12 that embody the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and A Framework for K-12 Science Education.*|
|5. Classroom coverage of content and practices in the Common Core State Standards and A Framework for K-12 Science Education.|
|Districts Need to Enhance the Capacity of K-12 Teachers||6. Teachers’ science and mathematics content knowledge for teaching.|
|7. Teachers’ participation in STEM-specific professional development activities.|
|Districts Should Provide Instructional Leaders with Professional Development That Helps Them to Create the School Conditions That Appear to Support Student Achievement||8. Instructional leaders’ participation in professional development on creating conditions that support STEM learning.|
|Policy Makers at the National, State, and Local Levels Should Elevate Science to the Same Level of Importance as Reading and Mathematics||9. Inclusion of science in federal and state accountability systems.|
|10. Inclusion of science in major federal K-12 education initiatives.|
|11. State and district staff dedicated to supporting science instruction.|
|States and National Organizations Should Develop Effective Systems of Assessment That Are Aligned with A Framework for K-12 Science Education and That Emphasize Science Practices Rather Than Mere Factual Recall||12. States’ use of assessments that measure the core concepts and practices of science and mathematics disciplines.|
|National and State Policy Makers Should Invest in a Coherent, Focused, and Sustained Set of Supports for STEM Teachers||13. State and federal expenditures dedicated to improving the K-12 STEM teaching workforce.|
|Federal Agencies Should Support Research That Disentangles the Effects of School Practice from Student Selection, Recognizes the Importance of Contextual Variables, and Allows for Longitudinal Assessments of Student Outcomes||14. Federal funding for the research identified in Successful K-12 STEM Education.|
* Because the Next Generation Science Standards had not been published at the time of this report, the committee used A Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) to develop Indicators 4, 5, and 12. These indicators can be tracked in relation to the Next Generation Science Standards when they are published.
Data for most of these 14 indicators are, or could be, available through existing surveys administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, although those data sources have limitations that should be considered in light of the goals of the proposed monitoring system. Several of the indicators require new kinds of data collection, changes in the frequency of data collection, or additional research and conceptual development.
A monitoring and reporting system designed around these indicators would be unique in its focus on key aspects of teaching and learning and could enable education leaders, researchers, and policy makers to better understand and improve national, state, and local STEM education for all students. Congress, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education could take the following steps to create such a system:
• Determine whether to create a dedicated survey or use existing federal surveys to collect data on the proposed indicators.
• More fully develop Indicators 1-14, for example, by more precisely defining what the indicators include, identifying what constitutes quality for each indicator, and identifying the most appropriate sources of data.
• Compile, analyze, and report on data that already exist.
• Modify existing surveys or create new data collection mechanisms to yield the needed information.
• Produce regular reports on K-12 STEM education that analyze progress toward the indicators and goals for STEM education.
• Engage stakeholders in discussions of the development of the indicators, their results, and their ongoing utility.