Identifying Quality STEM Programs

This blog post is the first in a four-part series of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related posts that align with the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference (April 23-25) and the USA Science & Engineering Festival in DC (April 26-27).

STEM is a relatively new field in Grade K–12 education.  STEM programs are being created and expanded at a fast pace, but the vast majority have not conducted evaluations to test the programs’ effectiveness in improving attitudes, content knowledge, skills, achievement, or other outcomes for students or educators. The federal What Works Clearinghouse identifies and reviews evaluations of science and mathematics programs, but it does not (yet) contain any evaluations of STEM-specific programs. However, two organizations have created their own rubrics and evaluated the quality of STEM programs.

 Change the Equation (CTEq) is a nonprofit organization that works to mobilize the STEM business community to improve STEM education in the United States. CTEq also hosts the STEMworks Database. This database provides brief descriptions of STEM programs nationwide and reviews each program based on CTEq’s Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthropy and an accompanying rubric that assesses the following: need; evaluation; sustainability; replication and scalability; partnerships; capacity; challenging and relevant content; STEM practices; inspiration; and underrepresented groups. Using these criteria, CTEq identified four “Ready to Scale” STEM programs: GirlStart Summer Camp, Project Lead the Way, ST Math, and the Ten80 Student Racing Challenge.

The second organization that has compiled a list of quality STEM programs is the Bayer Corporation. Bayer Corporation, a science- and research-based company, launched an initiative, Making Science Make Sense, to help improve science education and literacy for students. As part of this work, Bayer Corporation developed a resource guide, Planting the Seed for a Diverse U.S. STEM Pipeline: A Compendium of Best Practice K-12 STEM Education Programs, which highlights best-practice STEM programs that can be replicated in local communities and shares online resources for STEM education programs and partnership opportunities. Programs that are highlighted in the compendium meet four criteria: inquiry-based, experiential curricula; inquiry-learning environments; defined outcomes and assessment measures; and sustained commitment and community support.

As states and districts work to incorporate STEM into the classroom and provide STEM opportunities to students, these reviews and rubrics may provide guidance for judging STEM program quality and identifying STEM programs to adopt and implement.

Clarisse Haxton is a senior researcher and technical assistance liaison at the College and Career Readiness and Success Center.

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