DATA-DRIVEN PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHERS OF SCIENCE
Dr. Terry L. Lashley, Tennessee Technological University
Dr. Gary Skolits, The University of Tennessee
Dr. Claudia T. Melear, The University of Tennessee
Andrea Wentworth, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Diane Vaughn, Fentress County Schools, Tennessee
The East Tennessee Science Partnership is a three-year grant funded project designed to improve middle school student academic achievement in science through targeted teacher professional development. This professional development seeks to: 1) improve teacher capacity to analyze student achievement data and determine science content areas of weakness; 2) train teachers in scientific-based research applications for developing, guiding and monitoring instructional improvements; 3) train teachers with targeted, needs-based, science content knowledge; and 4) provide teachers with team-based knowledge and skills for enhancing teacher, teacher-teams, and school capacity for designing, implementing and monitoring strategies promoting improved student science achievement. The project currently includes 38 teachers representing 13 schools within five east Tennessee school districts. Each participating school has a data team of project teachers actively participating in the project.
The need for highly qualified middle grades science teachers in Tennessee is critical. The East Tennessee Science Partnership (ETnSP), a Tennessee Department of Education Math Science Partnership Grant, was written to address that need. The ETnSP individual teacher/school driven data-driven emphasis changes the focus of science content institutes from “what higher education content specialists want to offer to classroom teachers” to “what classroom teachers need in terms of assistance from content specialists.” Thus, through the ETnSP data-driven approach, science institute content goes from descriptive to prescriptive. The ETnSP program also hosts site-based institutes with smaller numbers of teachers which allows time for individual assistance from the content specialists and reflection opportunities for both the teacher participants and the content specialists.
Moreover, science instruction has a much lower priority than mathematics or reading in all respects (quality of instruction, time spent on instruction, materials, teacher preference, etc.). Science literacy is not regularly addressed in middle school classrooms and it is no surprise standardized test scores in science are low.
The ETnSP project is driven by a logic model tightly linking all goals, objectives, interventions, and outcomes (short term and long term) with multiple feedback mechanisms. The specific details and design of the ETnSP follow.
The ETnSP serves 37 middle school science and special education teachers (who teach science) in five rural, economically disadvantaged school districts: Campbell, Fentress, Grainger, Johnson, and Union. The ETnSP middle school science and special education teachers are currently receiving multiple science content institutes selected by a data-driven process (Love, 2002). Life Science (Botany/Biology/Biotechnology), Geology, Physics and Chemistry Institutes are offered. The science content institutes are delivered by Arts and Science Faculty from the University of Tennessee and Pellissippi State Technical Community College. Faculty from both institutions have received instruction and assistance including content clarification of the Tennessee Science Framework, National Science Education Standards, Atlas of Science Literacy, Benchmarks for Science Literacy and TCAP/TerraNova (state testing) as each relates to the teaching and learning of middle grades science.
Selection of the science content delivered is data-driven and follows intensive, site-based data training conducted by ETnSP staff members who have worked with the Using Data Getting Results project, Dr. Nancy Love (TERC). Content institutes are targeted to each teacher’s individual needs and are based upon classroom data provided by state testing and analyzed by the classroom teacher. As part of the data analysis, ETnSP teachers also examine each student’s opportunity to learn the desired science content through an analysis of the student work (assignments, questions, projects and assessments) offered in their own classroom.
Each participating middle school teacher receives a minimum of 10 days of contact per year (30 days per teacher over the course of the project) with university science faculty/staff. ETnSP staff members also provide ongoing, site-based classroom coaching/mentoring throughout the academic year.
The primary goal of the ETn-SP is the improvement of the science content knowledge of middle school teachers leading to the enhanced teaching and learning of science in the participating schools. It is asserted that through content improvement, teachers are better able to teach science content to students, and, thereby, improve their students’ achievement in science. The means by which the ETnSP is accomplishing the primary goal is through:
(1) creating professional learning communities of teachers (Dufour & Eaker, 1998), which supports a school climate of continued learning by teachers and opportunities for teachers to learn from each other;
(2) increasing the capacity of the science teachers to determine, through a data-driven process (Love, 2002), what their professional development needs are. This allows teachers to target their professional development in a systematic manner;
(3) delivering data-driven, content-rich, and pedagogically appropriate workshops to middle school science teachers in areas they have identified content deficits. The delivery methods are grounded in adult learning theory (Mezirow, 1991, 2000); and
(4) following up the workshops with mentored implementation/cognitive coaching (Costa & Garmston, 1997) for the science content during the academic year.
The specific program goals and objectives for the ETnSP are:
Provide research-based data analysis training for middle school data teams
Identify site-specific, data-driven needs for improved science achievement
Utilize data-driven needs to select appropriate professional development (pd) content
Maximize efficacy for all pd offered, to ensure maximum utilization of public funds
Provide instruction on how to access research-based intervention data and resources
Build capacity for reform within the school system; precursor to sustainability
Deliver high-quality, data-driven, content-focused pd in science
Enhance content understanding for middle school teachers; improve teaching and learning for middle grades students
Deliver instruction on research-based mechanisms for monitoring of implementation and action plans
Build capacity by providing educators with the tools needed for sustained program improvement monitoring
ETnSP staff members provide mentored implementation
Maximize implementation and outcomes; to make mid-course adjustments; to facilitate additional assistance to teachers and additional data-driven content delivery
Site-based assistance is provided to the school systems as adjustments/refinements to the individual teacher’s content understanding are needed. Higher education science content providers are advised of the results of their content institute’s impact on student learning thereby providing an ongoing feedback loop to the higher education faculty. As the project progresses, there will be an increased emphasis on differentiated instruction within each teacher’s classroom. Impact of all interventions is continuously monitored via changes in student performance, student achievement data, and teacher effect data.
This is a quasi-experimental design with a well-matched comparison group.
Data from year one of this three year grant will be presented in January. Preliminary data indicates that the three major components (data analysis, research based interventions and content institutes) of the ETnSP are effective and instructional changes are occurring. (Specific changes in teacher skills and classroom instruction will be fully addressed in the April 2006 paper presentation from a quantitative and qualitative perspective.) Teacher participants randomly selected to participate in an evaluation interview typically offered favorable comments regarding the data team training and data team activities.
The following are examples of teacher comments regarding the data:
The test data disaggregation is awesome. It showed me MY weaknesses and strong points.
Data-I love the impact is has had on professional development and curriculum sequence.
I used the data to identify MY low areas on TCAP and TerraNova. I’ve explored things that could have caused it.
The following are examples of teacher comments regarding the content institutes and research based interventions:
From the content institutes, I found out that what was being tested (by the state) was not in the science text I was using. So, now I am going outside [the textbook resource] to teach the necessary information.
Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! I love it and I am sold on it. It is the only way to go (reference the data training).
The following chart provides an example of data from one district. Three year trend data is provided, as well as 2005 data for one science strand: Earth and Space Science. This district has four schools, two schools participate in data-driven professional development offered through the project and two schools do not participate. The non-participating schools attend other professional development programs, but do not use data to inform their decisions.
The ETnSP design brings the inservice teacher into a full decision-making position with regard to the professional development needed for improved teaching and learning in their classroom. The relationship between higher education faculty and middle school teachers also changes as IHE faculty are asked to present specific, state-framework referenced science content to their participants. Further, there is a well-designed feedback loop for all partners.
Authors’ Contact Information
Dr. Terry L. Lashley
Tennessee Technological University
Dr. Gary Skolits
University of Tennessee
Dr. Claudia T. Melear
University of Tennessee
University of Tennessee
Fentress County Schools
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