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Identifying Levers Related to Student Performance on High-Stakes Science Exams: Examining School, Teaching, Teacher, and Professional Development Characteristics

by Christian Fischer, Brandon Foster, Ayana McCoy, Frances Lawrenz, Chris Dede, Arthur Eisenkraft, Barry J. Fishman, Kim Frumin & Abigail Jurist Levy - 2020

Background: Many students enter into postsecondary education without the preparation to face the demands of postsecondary coursework in science. Increasingly, policymakers and educational researchers are responding to calls for reforming secondary education to provide more opportunity for all students to receive high-quality education and to become career and college ready.

Purpose: This study attempts to identify levers to increase student learning in secondary education. In particular, it examines relationships between school, teaching, teacher, and teacher professional development characteristics and student scores on high-stakes Advanced Placement (AP) examinations in the sciences.

Setting: This study is situated in the context of the large-scale, top-down, nationwide AP curriculum and examination reform in the sciences (biology, chemistry, physics) in the United States. This is an unprecedented opportunity to analyze changing educational landscapes in the United States with large-scale national student-, teacher-, school-, and district-level datasets across multiple science disciplines and different stages of the curriculum reform implementation connected to a standardized and high-stakes student outcome measure.

Population: This study analyzes nationwide data samples of the AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and AP Physics population during the first, second, and third year of the curriculum reform implementation. Across disciplines and years, the analytical samples include a total of 113,603 students and 6,046 teachers.

Research design: This empirical quantitative study uses data from web-based surveys sent to all AP science teachers. Additionally, the College Board provided student- and school-level data for all students taking AP examinations. Data preparation methods included exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. Associations with student achievement were analyzed through a multilevel ordered logistic regression analysis, separately by science discipline and year of the curriculum reform implementation. Afterwards, results were aggregated through a meta-analysis.

Findings: Even after controlling for student background variables, roughly 60% of the AP score variance could be explained at the teacher and school levels. In particular, teachers’ perceived administrative support, self-efficacy, teaching experience, and elements of classroom instruction were related to student performance. Notably, teachers’ professional development participation—which has been a major focus of interventions—has a small, mixed impact on student achievement.

Conclusion: The identified levers for improving student achievement provide a strong rationale for the continued efforts of policymakers to improve school environments and to support science teachers, with the ultimate goal of improving student learning to help all students to be prepared for college and ready for their future careers.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 2, 2020, p. 1-64
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23024, Date Accessed: 9/20/2021 4:58:55 PM

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About the Author
  • Christian Fischer
    University of Tübingen
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTIAN FISCHER is an Assistant Professor in Educational Effectiveness at the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology at the University of Tübingen, Germany. His research examines pathways to improve STEM teaching and learning, in particular through the use of digital technologies. Recent publications include Fischer et al., “Investigating Relationships Between School Context, Teacher Professional Development, Teaching Practices, and Student Achievement in Response to a Nationwide Science Reform,” in Teaching and Teacher Education; and Fischer et al., “Adapting to the Large-Scale Advanced Placement Chemistry Reform: An Examination of Teachers’ Challenges and Instructional Practices,” in the Journal of Chemical Education.
  • Brandon Foster
    Education Development Center, Inc.
    E-mail Author
    BRANDON FOSTER is a Research Associate II at the Education Development Center, Inc. His areas of specialization include school readiness, culturally relevant measures for educational research, career and college readiness, and building researcher/practitioner partnerships centered on student data initiatives. He recently co-published “Culturally Embedded Measurement of Latino Caregivers’ Engagement in Head Start: A Tale of Two Forms of Engagement,” in Early Education and Development.
  • Ayana McCoy
    University of Massachusetts Boston
    E-mail Author
    AYANA MCCOY is an Associate Project Director in the Center of Science and Mathematics in Context (COSMIC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research interests include exploring the nexus of social justice and science education by addressing the disparity of students of color in the STEM K–20 pathway and the intersectionality of race, class, and gender within a science education context. She recently co-published “When Do Students in Low-SES Schools Perform Better-Than-Expected on a High-Stakes Test? Analyzing School, Teacher, Teaching, and Professional Development Characteristics,” in Urban Education.
  • Frances Lawrenz
    University of Minnesota
    E-mail Author
    FRANCES LAWRENZ is the Associate Vice President for Research for the University of Minnesota and Wallace Professor of Teaching and Learning in the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education and Human Development. Her research interest is STEM program evaluation. She recently co-published “Promoting Evaluation Capacity Building in a Complex Adaptive System,” in Evaluation and Program Planning.
  • Chris Dede
    Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    CHRIS DEDE is the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. His fields of scholarship include emerging technologies, policy, and leadership. In 2007, he was honored by Harvard University as an outstanding teacher, and in 2011 he was named a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. From 2014–2015, he was a Visiting Expert at the National Science Foundation Directorate of Education and Human Resources. His edited books include: Scaling Up Success: Lessons Learned from Technology-based Educational Improvement; Digital Teaching Platforms: Customizing Classroom Learning for Each Student; Teacher Learning in the Digital Age: Online Professional Development in STEM Education; Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Realities in Education; and Education at Scale: Engineering Online Learning and Teaching.
  • Arthur Eisenkraft
    University of Massachusetts Boston
    E-mail Author
    ARTHUR EISENKRAFT is Distinguished Professor of Science Education, Professor of Physics, and Director of the Center of Science and Math in Context (COSMIC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston. In 2017, he was the sole recipient of the National Science Board Public Service Award for exemplary contributions to public understanding of science and engineering. His current scholarly work is focused on curricula innovation, professional development, and sustainable change in school districts. His recent edited books include Beyond the Egg Drop: Infusing Engineering into High School Physics and Teacher Learning in the Digital Age: Online PD in STEM Education. His project-based learning high school text, Active Physics, is now in its third edition.
  • Barry Fishman
    University of Michigan
    E-mail Author
    BARRY FISHMAN is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Learning Technologies in the University of Michigan School of Information and School of Education. His research focuses on games as models for learning environments, teacher learning, and the development of usable, scalable, and sustainable learning innovations through design-based implementation research. His recent publications include Fishman et al., “Investigating relationships between school context, teacher professional development, teaching practices, and student achievement in response to a nationwide science reform,” in Teaching and Teacher Education; and Penuel and Fishman, “Large-scale Science Education Intervention Research We Can Use,” in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching.
  • Kim Frumin

    E-mail Author
    KIM FRUMIN is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She studies research–practice partnerships and online teacher professional learning. Frumin recently co-published “Adapting to Large-Scale Changes in Advanced Placement Biology, Chemistry, and Physics: The Impact of Online Teacher Communities,” in the International Journal of Science Education.
  • Abigail Levy
    Education Development Center, Inc.
    E-mail Author
    ABIGAIL JURIST LEVY is Co-director of Science and Math Programs, Education Development Center, Waltham, Massachusetts. Her research focuses on the impact of science instruction on student outcomes, and policies and practices that advance the effectiveness of the teaching workforce. She recently co-published “Science Specialists or Classroom Teachers: Who Should Teach Elementary Science?” in Science Educator.
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