NSF's math and science partnerships demonstrate continued increases in student proficiency

January 24, 2007

An analysis of 123 schools participating in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program shows improvements in student proficiency in mathematics and science at the elementary, middle- and high-school levels over a 3-year period.

The most recent data, for 2004-2005, show continued increases since the MSP program was established in 2002. Students showed the most significant improvements in mathematics proficiency, with a 13.7 percent increase for elementary, 6.2 percent increase for middle-school, and 17.1 percent increase for high-school students. Science proficiency at each level showed marked gains as well, with a 5.3 percent increase for elementary, 4.5 percent increase for middle-school, and 1.4 percent increase for high-school students.

The most dramatic increases were documented by elementary grade students in mathematics, where 7.2 percent more students achieved or exceeded proficiency from 2002-2003 to 2003-2004, followed by an increase of 6.5 percent from 2003-2004 to 2004-2005.

"The overall pattern of results continues to provide encouraging news about the work of NSF's MSP projects," said Diane Spresser, senior program coordinator for MSP at NSF. "While these results from the sample of schools that have been reporting data annually since 2002-2003 are very promising, much more is yet to be learned, especially as the larger data sets are analyzed from MSP schools that began their participation after 2002-2003."

African-American, Hispanic, and white students showed significant improvements in elementary level mathematics, as did students designated as special-education or as limited English-proficiency students.

The proficiency data also reveals a correlation between teachers who participate in MSP professional development and their school's change in student achievement. The correlations are positive in both mathematics and science at all grade levels (elementary, middle and high school) and are statistically significant for both elementary and high-school mathematics and science.

NSF's MSP program supports partnerships among higher education, local K-12 school systems, and supporting stakeholders, such as businesses or informal science-education organizations. At a minimum, each partnership must contain one institution of higher education and one K-12 school system. The program's portfolio includes 52 partnerships and more than 30 other projects engaged in the development of tools, research and capacity building for evaluation to support the work of the partnerships.

For example, the Appalachian Mathematics and Science Partnership (AMSP), administered through the University of Kentucky, is an integrated, comprehensive rural education reform initiative of 10 institutions of higher education, the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, 56 school districts, and more than 400 schools in the four central Appalachian states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. It serves an historically economically disadvantaged region, in which geographic isolation, lack of life resources and poorly funded schools present major barriers to education reform. The network of partnerships within the entire K-16 educational continuum has created and successfully implemented innovative, traditional and online mathematics and science programs in pre-service and in-service teacher enhancement, school improvement and program enhancement, and research and evaluation involving more than 50 faculty, 150 superintendents and principals and 2,000 K-12 teachers instructing more than 70,000 students.

"Marshall University is proud and eager to join with the members of the Appalachian Math and Science Partnership to advance the goals of this important program," said Stephen J. Kopp, president of Marshall University, one of the institutions that receives support through the AMSP. "The funding provided by the National Science Foundation is crucial to our collective success. The benefits to pre-K-12 math and science education will translate to improved student learning and achievement over time. As a nation, if we are to continue as a leader in science and innovation, we simply must do a better job of preparing present and future students to take advantage of the expanding educational and career opportunities in fields that require highly developed scientific or mathematical thinking and application skills."

A partnership between the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and the Baltimore County public schools aims to attract individuals with strong backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines into becoming teachers. To date, the partnership has supported 28 individuals with baccalaureate degrees in engineering, chemistry and geology to complete a master of arts in teaching (MAT), while 89 veteran teachers are earning certificates or an MAT in science, mathematics, physical science or elementary STEM education. An additional 21 individuals are interning in the MAT program and are about to join the previous MAT students in teaching in high-needs elementary, middle and high schools in Baltimore County.

With an investment of approximately $600 million, NSF's MSP program focuses on research and development and complements programs at the Department of Education that disseminate educational strategies and tools to the 50 states via formula-driven funds. Federal initiatives supporting local K-12 education represent a small percentage of the state and local funds that support schools systems. A key question for the MSP program evaluation is therefore the identification of strategies likely to have positive impacts on local school systems under such circumstances. The overall MSP program evaluation, which is being conducted by an external, third party organization in collaboration with faculty from Brown University, George Mason University and Vanderbilt University, began in 2004, and covers the entirety of the program's activities.

Projects in the current MSP portfolio are expected to impact more than 141,000 science and mathematics teachers and 4.2 million students in 530 local school districts. Since its inception, MSP has funded 89 projects.

Further reports from these larger student proficiency data sets are anticipated later in 2007.

National Science Foundation

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