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Regional Educational Laboratory Program

Impact of the Understanding Science Professional Development Model on Science Achievement of English Language Learner StudentsImpact of the Understanding Science Professional Development Model on Science Achievement of English Language Learner Students

Regional need and study purpose. Teachers with greater knowledge in science content and in teaching science are more likely to ask their students higher level questions and encourage them to discuss content and think about its applications than are teachers lacking such knowledge. Thus, it seems logical that teachers with greater knowledge in these areas might be more effective at improving student science achievement than those without such knowledge. This study evaluates the effects of WestEd's Understanding Science model of professional development—an approach that emphasizes inquiry-based instruction practices that depend less on English proficiency, textbook knowledge, and direct instruction—on student achievement in science, especially English language learner students.

Intervention description. Combining physical science content, student work and thinking, and classroom instruction, professional development sessions focus on science concepts in force and motion through structured investigations and narrative cases of practice drawn from actual classroom experience with those concepts.

Study design and period. This study, an experimental trial, runs from spring 2009 to spring 2010. Six research sites serve six regions in California and one urban district in Arizona. Approximately 120 volunteer middle school teachers are randomly assigned to treatment or control groups. Where only one teacher in a school participates, schools are randomly assigned to treatment or control groups. The study includes approximately 4,800 students.

Key outcomes and measures. Using a state standardized achievement test in science and a content knowledge test in the concepts of force and motion, this study measures the impact of the Understanding Science professional development model on student content knowledge and science achievement. To provide a basis for explaining the results, impacts on teacher content knowledge in force and motion are also studied, using content tests and teacher surveys. A descriptive study examines teacher classroom science instructional practices.

Data collection approach. Outcomes will be measured for treatment- and control-group teachers, students, and classrooms through data collected in the spring of 2009 and both semesters of 2009/10. Data will include pre- and post-course outcome measures.

Analysis plan. To estimate program impacts, outcomes for students and teachers in treatment classrooms are compared with those for their counterparts in control classrooms. Multilevel regression models are used to account for school and classroom clustering. Exploratory analyses will examine impacts on student groups, such as English language learner students.

Principal investigators. Joan Heller, PhD, Heller Research Associates.

Additional Information. Region, contact information, and references

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