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Improving the Effectiveness of Science and Mathematics Education Programs

Global demand is growing for workers knowledgeable in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — subjects collectively known as STEM. Abt Global — through its evaluation work — is helping to refine programs designed to increase the STEM knowledge of teachers, the STEM performance of students, and the professional preparation of STEM researchers. Abt has evaluated and provided technical support to a wide variety of national and international programs that support STEM education and training, including:

  • A Department of Education partnership that provides professional development to K-12 STEM educators across the U.S in high-need communities;
  • National Science Foundation efforts to encourage graduate STEM students to conduct interdisciplinary research and STEM discipline college majors to become K-12 science and math teachers; and
  • NASA programs that inspire students to consider STEM careers by connecting students to the agency’s materials, missions, and research.

Mary Joel Holin
Mary Joel Holin,
Social and Economic Policy division vice president
“We have helped make substantive improvements in STEM education through our work, so that students and teachers at all levels are better prepared for the modern workforce,” Mary Joel Holin, Social and Economic Policy division vice president at Abt Global.
  President Obama, during his State of the Union address on Feb. 20, said he will continue to emphasize STEM in his education reforms. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math –  the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future,” Obama said.   Teachers, Students Improve STEM Skills through Partnerships   math classAbt provides extensive analytic and technical support for the Department of Education’s Mathematics and Science Partnerships (MSP) program. The MSP Program – implemented by the Department of Education under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 – is a federal state-administered formula grant program supporting collaborative partnerships between STEM departments at institutions of higher education and high-need school districts. The program provided $150 million to states in fiscal year 2012. Abt coordinates regional policy and evaluation meetings for the MSP community, and compiles annual program metrics describing efforts to boost students’ academic achievement in math and science by expanding educators’ STEM knowledge and teaching skills.   In the 2010-11 school year, MSP support translated into professional development for 44,000 educators in mathematics and science. In turn, these teachers have reached more than 2.1 million students. According to local measures, nearly two-thirds of MSP participating teachers showed statistically significant gains in their mathematics knowledge and nearly three-quarters had significant improvements in science. Their students also performed better in math and science on state proficiency assessments.  
Abt Evaluations Support National Science Foundation Programs

Abt has worked for many years with the nation’s leading funder of STEM innovation, the National Science Foundation (NSF), to support improvement of and access to professional training in STEM disciplines and delivery of STEM education through evaluations of key program initiatives.   The training programs Abt has studied include:  

  • National Science FoundationThe Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) Program, which supports STEM fellowships for graduate students designed to improve their communication and teaching skills through interactions with teachers and students in K-12 schools. The teachers and K-12 students, in turn, receive current STEM content and instruction from a diverse group of young STEM researchers.
  • The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which encourages talented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers in high-need districts. The program provides financial and program support in four areas: Encouraging freshmen and sophomores to consider teaching as a career; Helping juniors, seniors, and post-baccalaureates in their teacher preparation, Providing induction assistance for STEM teachers, and supporting the development of master teachers.
  • The International Research Fellowship Program (IRFP) isunique among NSF’s postdoctoral programs for its emphasis on providing postdoctoral fellows with international research experiences. Established in 1992, IRFP provides financial support to postdoctoral scientists for a research experience abroad lasting from 9 to 24 months. The Abt evaluation concluded that IRFP is effectively introducing early career scientists to international collaboration opportunities, building the research capacity of participants, and forging long-term relationships between U.S. and foreign science and engineering researchers. 
  • The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, the NSF’s flagship graduate interdisciplinary training program. Since 1998, IGERT has made awards to research-intensive universities to support Ph.D. scientists and engineers to participate in university-developed interdisciplinary graduate training experiences. Abt’s reviews of IGERT found that it is changing the training of graduate students and their engagement in interdisciplinary work. This is happening through interdisciplinary coursework, team-based projects that integrate multiple disciplinary approaches and tools, and lessons on how to communicate ideas to researchers across disciplines as well as to general audiences. IGERT has provided 278 grants and funded nearly 6,500 trainees in 41 states and at more than 100 universities.

“We know that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education are critical for the American economy and that leaders in these disciplines must be internationally engaged to remain at the cutting edge of the field. We’re proud of our role in maintaining that focus and helping students and teachers in the STEM disciplines prepare for and advance their careers,” Holin said. 

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