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New 'STEMworks Database' Aims to Identify Strong Programs

Plenty of education programs make grand claims to boost learning and even help transform the lives of young people, but it's not always easy to sort out the wheat from the chaff. A new STEMworks Database seeks to provide this service for STEM learning initiatives at the preK-12 level.

Developed by Change the Equation, a coalition of corporate CEOs working to improve education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the initiative has turned to expert researchers at WestEd to evaluate programs and (potentially) give them a stamp of approval. A pilot phase wrapped up last month with 20 out of 40 programs showing enough promise to be included. And now Change the Equation is trying to spread the word far and wide to invite more programs to step forward and go through the evaluation process.

The reward for those that do? Increased visibility among the corporate community and other potential funders who might expand their reach.

"There are all kinds of programs that make all kinds of claims," said Claus von Zastrow, the research director at Change the Equation. "You have programs that say they doubled the college-going and -completion rates among low-income students. And when you scratch the surface, you discover, not really."

He added: "We thought the best thing to do was to put programs through a pretty rigorous process."

Among the 20 programs to be recognized so far in the database are:

Engineering Is Elementary;

Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program;

GirlStart Summer Camp;

Project Lead the Way; and

IMSA Fusion. (IMSA is the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, which, by the way, I recently featured in a blog post about a new book on selective public high schools.)

To make the cut, STEM education programs must be "deemed effective," as the Change the Equation website puts it, when measured against a set of design principles. Those principles, developed by the coalition of business leaders, have been translated by WestEd into an evaluation process.

"What WestEd did was create a pretty strong process to get programs to submit and do self assessments," von Zastrow said, "provide evidence to support [their claims], and then WestEd reviewers in the STEM area go through the evidence, see if it in fact supports the self assessment."

You can check out all 10 of the design principles here. They include:

• Identify and target a compelling and well-defined need;

• Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress in addressing the identified need;

• Demonstrate replicability and scalability; and

• Offer STEM content that is challenging and relevant for the target audience.

There's also a more detailed rubric aligned with the principles.

The database is searchable by various factors, such as content area, target audience, grade level, and location. By year's end, the goal is to have at least 100 programs included.

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