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How Teacher Preparation Programs Impact Student STEM Achievement

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This week we are hearing from a research-practice collaboration between the American Institutes for Research (AIR, @Education_AIR) and the UTeach (@uteachinstitute) program to prepare STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teachers. Today's post is part one of a two-part series discussing AIR's study of the impacts of UTeach STEM teacher preparation programs in Texas funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Stay tuned: Thursday we will share part two.

This post is by Melissa Dodson, Principal Researcher at the American Institutes for Research.

Policymakers and education leaders have long been calling for a focus on STEM in K-12 education in the United States, with a particular emphasis on the need for high-quality STEM teachers as the driving force behind increased student achievement in STEM. Teacher preparation programs, and differences among programs, play a significant role in producing effective STEM teachers.

With that in mind, American Institutes for Research (AIR) researchers and leaders from the founding UTeach teacher preparation program at the University of Texas at Austin have collaborated to design a series of studies that would increase the evidence of the effectiveness of the program.

UTeach is a university-based STEM teacher preparation program designed to increase the number of high-quality STEM teachers in the workforce. The UTeach program originated at the University of Texas at Austin and has expanded to 46 colleges and universities in 22 states and the District of Columbia.

The formal partnership between AIR and UTeach started with a planning grant to develop a research agenda, guided by a panel of expert researchers, which led to AIR's study of the effectiveness of UTeach teachers in Texas, funded by the IES research grant program.

Research Question and Data

The main research question of this study was: Are there significant differences in student outcomes both across UTeach programs and between UTeach programs and traditional training programs?

The study used Texas administrative data covering all mathematics and science teachers and their students in public secondary schools to assess whether UTeach-affiliated programs in Texas produce teachers who are more effective than the average non-UTeach teacher, as measured by student performance on standardized assessments.

Findings

AIR's study finds that, relative to non-UTeach teachers in the state, graduates of both the UTeach founding program and six other UTeach programs at Texas universities were more effective than comparison teachers in the state, as measured by their ability to raise student test scores in math and science. Students taught by UTeach teachers in Texas perform significantly better on end-of-grade tests in mathematics and end-of-course tests in mathematics and science. Overall, the students of UTeach graduates saw an average gain of 2-5 months of schooling.

Also noteworthy, the findings suggest that the introduction of UTeach to a given university is associated with an increase in the effectiveness of the STEM teachers produced by that university, even when candidate selection criteria, such as the SAT scores of incoming students, were held constant.

Presenting the Findings

Last month, researchers from AIR had the chance to present the study's findings to a large group of UTeach faculty and staff at the UTeach National Conference celebrating its 20-year anniversary. Presenting our findings for the first time to a large group of practitioners was a key milestone for our AIR research team. It was also a significant moment for UTeach programs across the country: This is the first study of its kind from an independent research organization on the effectiveness of UTeach graduates. Dr. Michael Marder, co-director of the UTeach Austin program, also presented findings from a similar study he conducted in Texas, independently from AIR, that shows similar but more conservative findings.

Our presentation generated a lively discussion of AIR's research, particularly focused on sampling and analyses, and helped us plan the next steps for our collaboration. To sustain future engagement of the partnership with UTeach and to reach the broader practice community, AIR plans to develop and implement an engagement plan which will outline key messages and resources for a variety of media strategies (e.g., e-blasts, newsletters, websites, briefs, brochures, and videos).

Additionally, more related studies are in the works, including the following:

Retention of STEM teachers: Exploratory Study of UTeach STEM Training Program. This study will examine retention rates for UTeach teachers in comparison to teachers prepared by other higher education and alternative certification programs in Texas.

The UTeach Approach: Perceptions of Teacher Preparedness and the Efficacy of UTeach Program Features as Predictors of Teacher and Student Outcomes. This study will examine UTeach candidates' perceptions of certain program features, the extent to which they feel prepared to teach, and their levels of confidence and concerns as reported on the UTeach End of Program survey. It also will explore the relationship of these responses to outcomes for UTeach candidates.

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