Development and Validation of the Beliefs about Reformed Science Teaching and Learning (BARSTL) Questionnaire


Victor Sampson, Arizona State University

Aimee Benton, Arizona State University



This study focuses on the development and validation of a measurement tool that can be used to assess teachers’ beliefs about science teaching and learning in order to provide greater insight into views in which these views affect teaching practice.  The conceptual development of the Beliefs about Reformed Science Teaching and Learning (BARSTL) questionnaire draws on the philosophy of the current national science education reform efforts in order to define a traditional-reformed pedagogical content belief continuum that can be used to map teachers’ beliefs about the teaching and learning of science.  The reliability and validation of the instrument were examined using a multiple perspective approach using the psychometric characteristics of the instrument.  The results suggest that the BARSTL is a valid and reliable instrument for measuring the reformed pedagogical content beliefs about the teaching and learning of science held by prospective elementary teachers.



Science educators are engaged today in a substantial effort of reform.  This is evidenced, in part, by the many recommendations being made by professional organizations for standards in science and the teaching of science. However, rather than using these standards to guide their practice, science teachers tend to rely on a personal belief system to guide their thinking about science teaching and learning (Yerrick, Parke, & Nugent, 1997). Peterson, Fennema, Carpenter, and Loef (1989) describe the beliefs that teachers hold about teaching and learning in a particular content area as pedagogical content beliefs. Their research suggests that along with practical knowledge, these beliefs have a strong influence on classroom action. These beliefs, which teachers develop before and over the course of their career, include intuitive ideas and assumptions about students and the learning process, teachers and teaching, the nature of knowledge, and the goals of the curriculum (Bruner, 1999; Joram & Gabriele, 1998; Kagan, 1992; Munby, 1982; Nespor, 1987).

Research on teacher beliefs suggests that the success of the current science education reform effort will depend, in part, on the ability of in service and preservice teachers to integrate the philosophy of the current science education reform movement with their existing philosophy without compromising the intent of the reform movement (Cronin-Jones, 1991; Joram & Gabriele, 1998).  For example, several researchers have found that teachers frequently modify new science curricula to make them more compatible with their own established beliefs regarding the role of teacher in the classroom (Duschl & Wright, 1989; Olson, 1981, 1982; Tobin & Gallagher, 1987). Others have shown that classroom instruction and teacher practices are consistent with the beliefs that a teacher holds (Duschl & Wright, 1989; Kagan, 1992; Lantz & Kass, 1987) and the that difficulties that frequently plague the implementation of innovations in the classroom are related to the resistant nature of teacher beliefs (Munby, 1982; J Nespor, 1987).  Overall, this body of research suggests that the role of a teacher’s beliefs in the process of initiating science education reform should not be underestimated and that the successful implementation of the current science education reform movement will require a considerable adaptation of teachers’ beliefs in order to align their practice with the philosophy of the reform.

To help teachers develop a set of pedagogical content beliefs that is consistent with the philosophy of the reform movement will require teacher education and professional development programs in science education to focus on identifying, understanding, and if necessary, changing the beliefs of teachers (Bybee, 1993; Haney, Czerniak, & Lumpe, 1996).  In order to focus on teachers’ beliefs during instruction, teacher educators must have a way to assess teachers’ beliefs about the teaching and learning of science that is valid and reliable.  This information can then be used as a springboard from which subsequent teacher interviews, discussions, and classroom observations could take place.  The quantitative and qualitative data could then be used to help change the philosophical stances of preservice teachers and as a means of reflecting on and improving the teaching practices that take place within teacher education programs. When approached in this way, targeting preservice teachers’ beliefs in teacher education may have a significant impact on changing their beliefs about teaching and learning (Joram & Gabriele, 1998; Levitt, 2001).

With the present study, we sought to develop a tool that can be used to identify teachers’ beliefs about the teaching and learning of science and the degree to which these beliefs are consistent with the philosophy that underlies the current reform movement in science education.  Specifically, the purpose of this paper is to present the results of a study in which we developed and examined the viability of an instrument, the Beliefs about Reformed Science Teaching and Learning (BARSTL) questionnaire, which was designed as a way to quantitatively measure in-service and pre-service teachers’ beliefs about the teaching and learning of science.   

Theoretical Framework

Teacher Beliefs and Practical Knowledge

We draw on the theoretical constructs of both teacher beliefs and practical knowledge to guide our work. There is a strong literature base for applying the construct of teacher beliefs to research on teacher practice. Reviewing this literature, Pajares (1992) asserted that beliefs are ‘‘the best indicators of the decisions individuals make throughout their lives’’ (p. 307).  Belief structures play a major role in teacher decision-making about curriculum and instructional tasks (Nespor, 1987; Pajares, 1992; Richardson, 1996). In a review of the literature concerning the nature of these beliefs, Kagan (1992)