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IES Grant

Title: Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem-Solving Skills in Technology-Rich Environment in the STEM-Related Subbaccalaureate Programs in the United States
Center: NCER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Yamashita, Takashi Awardee: University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2020 - 06/30/2023) Award Amount: $1,398,747
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305A200261

Co-Principal Investigator: Karam, Rita

Purpose: Sub-baccalaureate programs (for example, certificate and associate degree programs) aim to prepare the existing and future STEM workforce. However, the career and academic preparedness of adults in these education programs may create barriers to successful completion. In this study, researchers will gather information about the distribution of basic skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) for adults in STEM occupations using a nationally representative data set, analyze primary data from students enrolled in STEM-related sub-baccalaureate programs at community colleges to determine their skill distribution, and review sub-baccalaureate programming at community colleges for practices that may promote basic skill development.


Project Activities: The researchers will use mixed-methods research to create (a) skill profiles of the U.S. STEM workforce, (b) skill profiles of community college students in STEM programs, and (c) information about the college program characteristics that may promote the development of basic skills. This work will include secondary data analysis of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) data as well as primary data collection from community college students, faculty, administrators, and other stakeholders.

Products: The researchers will produce information about adult basic skill distributions relevant to STEM-related postsecondary programming and preliminary evidence of potentially promising practices for developing basic skills. They will share this evidence in peer-reviewed publications, presentations, and other forms of dissemination.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The secondary data come from U.S. data from an international survey of adult skills, the Program for the Insternational Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Primary data will come from multiple postsecondary education institutions across Indiana, Ohio, and Washington states.

Sample: The PIAAC sample includes the data from nationally representative 2012/2014/2017 data collection, using the data from adults aged 16 years and older (n = 7,412). Primary data will come from at least 64 postsecondary students from 3 different colleges and various school administrators and instructors at the community colleges and potential employers.

Malleable Factors: There are two broad sets of malleable factors relevant to this study: adult basic skills and program characteristics. The three basic skills the researchers are exploring include literacy (defined as the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts), numeracy (defined as the ability to access, use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas), and problem-solving with technology (defined as the ability to use digital technology, communication tools, and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others, and perform practical tasks). As for the program characteristics, the researchers will explore the types of policies and practices that may help promote the development of these basic skills, such as co-teaching models, contextualized instruction, inquiry-based instruction, and student-centered activities.

Research Design and Methods: Using a mixed-methods design, the researchers will address three research aims. In Aim 1, they will develop a detailed national profile of the basic skills in the STEM-related workforce. To do this, they will leverage the PIAAC and will analyze the cross-sectional data using complex sampling weights. In Aim 2, they will collect data from students enrolled in three community colleges to explore the associations between the students' basic skill levels (pre- and post-tests at the beginning and the end of the academic year) and their learning outcomes (such as persistence, program completion) in STEM-related programs. In Aim 3, they will identify practices in STEM-related programs that may promote the development of basic skills. This work will include gathering qualitative data from program stakeholders (such as administrators) and reviewing course documents and artifacts.

Control Condition: Due to the exploratory nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: To measure students' basic skills, the researchers will leverage the Education and Skills Online (ESO) assessment, which is an assessment intended to be equivalent to the PIAAC. They will also collect administrative data on academic outcomes such as course grade and course enrollment and self-reported learning outcomes.

Data Analytic Strategy: For the analysis of the PIAAC data, the researchers will use multi-group structural equation models and latent class analysis to identify underlying sub-groups. For the analysis of current students' skills, they will use fixed-effect models to take the possible nested structure. For the analysis of college program characteristics, they will use grounded theory to analyze the qualitative data. They will triangulate these data to identify underlying themes and/or key factors that are linked to enhanced basic skills and academic success in the STEM-related sub-baccalaureate programs.

Related Projects: A Mixed-Methods Study of Middle-Aged and Older Adults: Lifelong Learning, Skill Proficiencies, and Employment in the U.S. and Selected OECD Countries (R305A170183)