Findings

Studies of LSC projects involved documentation of thousands of professional development sessions and classroom mathematics and science lesson observations, as well as participant questionnaires and interviews. The FINDINGS section features both cross-referenced descriptions of key research findings, and direct access to research reports, along with presentations made by the Horizon Research, Inc. staff and affiliates about the study.

Topics

Topics listed below are designed to introduce readers to the many facets of LSC evaluation data. From the brief summary of a topic, one can access more detailed descriptions of findings, and investigate further, via links to technical reports and to the comprehensive Capstone report published by Horizon Research, Inc. Topics include:

Administrative Support

LSC project directors typically cited principal support as the most important factor in determining teacher participation in professional development, and in developing a supportive context for reform at the building level. An analysis of classroom observation data found that lessons of teachers with perceptions of greater principal support tended to be of higher quality than lessons of teachers with lower perceptions of principal support (Bowes & Banilower, 2004). In addition, an analysis of LSC teacher questionnaire data (Heck & Crawford, 2004a) found that teachers with supportive administrators:

  • had more positive attitudes toward standards-based teaching;
  • were more positive about how well they understand mathematics/science content; and
  • were more positive about their ability to teach the content.
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Elementary Science Instruction

Elementary school teachers who participated in the LSC programs increased the amount of time they spent teaching science. This finding is based on an analysis of teacher questionnaire data, and applies to teachers in grades K-5 working in self-contained classes.

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Impact of Professional Development on Teachers

Professional development plays a key role in school improvement. The LSC projects encouraged participating school districts to establish professional learning communities in order to "empower teachers to change practice and to reflect on their own teaching and learning." (Local Systemic Change through Teacher Enhancement in Science Grades 6-12: Program Announcement and Guidelines. (1998). National Science Foundation, Directorate for Education and Human Resources.) According to evaluators' ratings, the overall quality of LSCs' professional development increased significantly over time. The most effective LSC professional development programs reflected a design that was conceptualized and implemented as an overall program of work, not as a laundry list of offerings.

As a result of these professional development experiences:
  • Teachers had more positive attitudes about standards-based teaching in mathematics and science.
  • Teachers were more positive about how well they understand mathematics/science.
  • Teachers were more positive about a their ability to teach mathematics/science content.
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Improving Instruction

Teacher professional development was the focal point of LSC projects for improving instruction in mathematics and science. By analyzing teacher responses to questionnaires and observing teachers at work with their students, researchers found that LSC projects had a positive impact on mathematics and science classroom practice. Longitudinal analyses indicated a link between LSC professional development and a classroom culture that was conducive to the teacher's use of more investigative practices, high quality questioning and sense making of content in lessons.

Other aspects of the evaluation found that the overall quality of mathematics/science lessons improved, including the quality of content in lessons. These findings were significant for both mathematics and science teachers.

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Instructional Materials

LSCs were designed to help teachers become more familiar with the instructional materials used by the district, and to learn the appropriate pedagogy to develop students' conceptual understanding of mathematics/science. Both the extent of teacher participation in LSC professional development and the use of the research-based instructional materials were associated with higher quality of the observed lessons.

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Mathematics and Science Content Knowledge

One of the goals of the LSC professional development was to deepen teacher understanding of mathematics and science content. As projects matured, evaluator ratings of professional development in terms of improving teacher content knowledge increased substantially.

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Pedagogy

LSC findings indicated that professional development had a powerful impact on teachers' beliefs and attitudes toward their teaching. Workshop evaluations and interviews revealed that teachers left professional development activities with:

  • greater enthusiasm for teaching;
  • heightened awareness of how students learn;
  • willingness to modify their teaching practices and collaborate with colleagues; and
  • increased confidence in their ability to teach mathematics or science.

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Student Achievement

There is a growing body of evidence regarding the impact of the LSC program on students. Existing LSC project studies, results from a cross-site science achievement study, and data from principal questionnaires and teacher interviews offer some evidence of the LSC's positive impact on students.

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Teacher Quality

To improve teachers' subject matter knowledge and teaching skills, the LSC projects provided content-based professional development to teachers, focusing on the instructional materials that teacher use in their classrooms. The professional development programs were offered to all teachers in a set of schools/districts. Evaluation data indicate that, as a result of professional development experiences:

  • the overall quality of mathematics/science lessons improved;
  • teachers used more investigative practices, high quality questioning and sense-making of content in lessons; and
  • the amount of time spent on science at the elementary level increased.

These impacts on teachers and teaching were evident after approximately 30 hours of professional development.

Based on the LSC experience, college/university educators of prospective teachers will need to not only model teaching for understanding in mathematics/science and education courses, but also to focus explicitly on key aspects of teaching for understanding. In particular, prospective teachers need to recognize that the purpose of using activities is not simply to engage their students, but to help them learn powerful mathematics and/or science.

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University Partnerships

Professional development programs often involved college/university faculty as well as teacher leaders. Within this team format, teacher leaders typically focused on pedagogy and instructional materials, while content experts focused on science/mathematics concepts. One finding was that sessions focused on creating a vision of effective instruction, promoting reflective practice and understanding student thinking tended to be rated more highly when mathematics/science college/universityeducation faculty were among the facilitators. This finding was significant for both mathematics and science.

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