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A Systemic Partnership to Improve the Teaching and Learning of Science for all Students Overview

published: 12/21/2001
posted to site: 12/21/2001

Annual report to the National Science Foundation
The Delaware Science Coalition Local Systemic Change Initiative

A Systemic Partnership to Improve the Teaching and
Learning of Science for all Students

by Rachel E. Wood and John W. Collette

Annual Overview of Project Activities
The Objective of the Delaware LSCI is to build capacity at the district and school level to ensure that all children in grades K-8 have the opportunity to obtain the skills and knowledge needed to meet the expectation of the Delaware Science Standards and Performance Indicators. The focus in the 1999-2000 school year has continued to be on four major components:

  1. Continue to provide in-depth professional development in science to K-5 teachers while improving the quality and consistency of the professional development program
    The number of K-5 teachers in the Science Coalition has increased in the last year to 2980. The majority of the teachers have received professional development in two or more science units and are using them in their classroom based on data from kit usage and teacher reflection papers. The total level of teacher training continues at the high rate of ca. 1200 teachers/ year primarily due to teacher turnover (new hires, teacher transfers, grade level changes and school restructuring). To ensure the quality of the professional development being given, all instructors have been provided with additional professional development on their roles and responsibilities, and a CD reference library that gives them an overview on the background and mission of the Delaware Science Coalition, science units offered in the K-8 curriculum, the relationship among the individual kits, end of unit assessments, information on constructivist vs. traditional teaching and a guide for designing the professional development sessions.

  2. Expand the elementary program through development and introduction of an inquiry based 6-8 curriculum aligned with the Delaware Standards
    Five additional grade 6-8 additional curriculum units were piloted over the last year as follows: Classification (grade 6), Genetics (grade 7), Cells and Human Body(grade 7), Ecosystems( grade 8) and Transformation of Energy (Grade 8). These units complete the development of the middle school curriculum with three units in grades 6 and 7 and four in grade 8 and provide the Coalition with an articulated K-8 curriculum. In this curriculum, the physical science strand has been significantly strengthened, introduced in earlier grades than in the past and is now being articulated through Grade 9; thus the students take Motion and Design in grade 5, Force and Motion in grade 6 and will take Force Motion and Mechanical Energy in grade 9. All units are piloted, reviewed and modified based on teacher and classroom experience to ensure that they help students learn the major concepts articulated in the standards.

    Professional development is provided through graduate level courses at the University of Delaware or Delaware State University. Because of the demand for teacher training these courses are offered both during the summer and school year.

  3. Develop a comprehensive assessment system that provides teachers with diagnostic information about student learning. Build assessment literacy throughout the Coalition.
    Assessment continues to be the major focus of both the elementary and middle school Lead Teacher program. One end of unit (summative ) assessment has been completed fro each grade K-5 and is available through the Coalition website Each assessment includes examples of student workand customized Excel spreadsheets to help teachers disaggregate their data.

    Under the direction of Coalition Leadership, 120 Lead teachers are working with the Coalition Science Specialists (CSS) to pilot assessments and obtain examples of student work. Over the next year, they will participate in four full day professional development sessions to score student work, analyze student responses, draw valid inferences from student data and discuss what implications have to their instructional practices. They will be working under the guidance of Professor Mary Ellen Harmon of Boston College. The lead teachers and science specialists will then be working in their individual districts to introduce the assessments to all teachers and administrators.

    Middle school teachers will be working with the middle school CSS and Dr. Harmon to develop assessments for the grade 6-8 curriculum units.

    TIMSS -R Participation
    The Delaware Science Coalition participated in the 1999 TIMSS-R primarily to obtain an external benchmark as one additional component of a comprehensive assessment system. The results, available on www.rdc.udel, have been reviewed with curriculum directors, district administrators and middle and high school teachers throughout the state. They have proved extremely useful in engaging these stakeholders in the challenge of improving student achievement in science and the urgent need to change the middle and high school curriculum.

    To better identify and understand specific strengths and weaknesses in student performance, Coalition leadership carried out a detailed study of Delaware student performance on all the TIMSS released items. This confirmed the need to strengthen the physical science strand of the curriculum, and to increase emphasis on graphing and interpreting graphs. A selected set of the released TIMSS items that closely reflects the Delaware State Test Program (DSTP) items has been distributed to all middle school lead teachers to use in further discussions and professional development with teachers in their buildings and districts. Further analyses of the results is being carried out by Professor R.Shavelson of Stanford and Dr. Harmon to determine more specifically the cognitive demand of the TIMSS test and the degree of alignment with the Delaware standards and the DSTP.

  4. Develop a strategy to sustain the science project after NSF funding has finished.
    As part of its focus on sustaining the LSCI, Coalition Leadership is developing a five-year plan for submission to the Department of Education by December. The Superintendent of every district has signed a new Memorandum of Understanding indicating their support for continuing the Coalition and the Department of Education has budgeted additional funds to support Coalition leadership beyond the end of the grant.

Project Training/Development

In the period from July 2000 through June 2001, 1214 K-5 teachers took professional development in science curriculum units for a total of 17,500 hours. In all but the larger districts, most K-5 teachers have been trained in 2-3 kits/year.

Additional mini courses are now being offered to experienced kit user who took professional development when it was first available. These renewal courses cover content and pedagogy at a faster pace and include recently developed assessments. Fifty experienced teachers have taken advantage of these to date.

Professional Development Report
Elementary Teachers

From July

Through June

Courses Offered

Teachers Participating































Middle school
Since beginning the grade 6-8 initiative in 1998 through June 2001, middle school teachers have participated in 342 graduate level training courses requiring 42 hours of contact time for a total of 14,400 hours. More than 85% of the 265 grade 6-8 teachers are currently using at least one inquiry based science unit in their classrooms.

Because of the high level of interest in this training, nine professional development courses were offered in the summer of 2001 and nine more will be offered during the current school year.

The Environment
The Delaware State Test (DSTP) in science now given to all students in grades 4,6,8 and 10 will begin to impact accountability in 2003, when science will become part of graduation requirement and science will be included in the overall evaluation of school performance. This should raise the importance of science with administrators and teachers.

The Neighborhood School Act that requires school in New Castle County (where 2/3 of the students are located) could cause significant disruption by requiring districts to send all students to the nearest school. This would set back science by increasing teacher and student turnover and using resources needed for teacher training, curriculum materials and classroom resources.

Lessons learned

  1. It is important to keep science teachers involved in professional development around higher order thinking both written and verbal, actual student generated inquiry questions and the process of forming a questions, making a plan to test the hypothesis, carrying out the plan and drawing conclusions. Focusing on just the initial kit training and summative assessments omits a portion of the learning.
  2. Involve and educate principals on the goals, kits and methods of teaching /learning the science content.
  3. Development of assessments is a much longer process than anticipated as science specialists and lead teachers learn to write and score quality diagnostic work.
  4. The high level of teacher turnover (more than 30% in some districts) slows implementation and will require special attention to ensure that new teachers understand the background goals and strategies of the Science Coalition
  5. Charter schools introduce new complexities. While they serve public school students, they are outside the organizational framework provided by the school district and do not have access to science specialists that have been critical to implementing the program in each district.
  6. Middle school teachers have become strong supporters of the project as they learn more about the elementary curriculum, see student work from the elementary grades, and observe that the incoming students are better prepared in science than in the past. They have better laboratory skills, know how to work in groups, make and test hypotheses, and stronger graphing skills.
  7. Don't underestimate the power of parents. As middle school students progress to high school, districts report that parents are asking for the Coalition science program to be continued.
  8. It is never too early to begin work on institutionalization.

Publications and Presentations

  1. Rachel Wood and John Collette, Invited Presentation, Triangle Coalition Conference, Oct 18, 2001: Meeting the Challenges of Improving Science and Mathematic Education: Success Through Collaboration.
  2. John W. Collette, Invited Presentation, National Alliance of Business Annual Meeting, Nov 5,2001: The Delaware Science Coalition, A Model for Systemic Improvement of Science Education.