Standardized test outcomes for students engaged in inquiry-based science curricula in the context of urban reform
J Res Sci Teach 45: 922-939, 2008
Robert Geier, Phyllis C. Blumenfeld, Ronald W. Marx, Joseph S. Krajcik, Barry Fishman, Elliot Soloway, Juanita Clay-Chambers
Considerable effort has been made over the past decade to address the needs of learners in large urban districts through scaleable reform initiatives. We examine the effects of a multifaceted scaling reform that focuses on supporting standards based science teaching in urban middle schools. The effort was one component of a systemic reform effort in the Detroit Public Schools, and was centered on highly specified and developed project-based inquiry science units supported by aligned professional development and learning technologies. Two cohorts of 7th and 8th graders that participated in the project units are compared with the remainder of the district population, using results from the high-stakes state standardized test in science. Both the initial and scaled up cohorts show increases in science content understanding and process skills over their peers, and significantly higher pass rates on the statewide test. The relative gains occur up to a year and a half after participation in the curriculum, and show little attenuation with in the second cohort when scaling occurred and the number of teachers involved increased. The effect of participation in units at different grade levels is independent and cumulative, with higher levels of participation associated with similarly higher achievement scores. Examination of results by gender reveals that the curriculum effort succeeds in reducing the gender gap in achievement experienced by urban African-American boys. These findings demonstrate that standards-based, inquiry science curriculum can lead to standardized achievement test gains in historically underserved urban students, when the curriculum is highly specified, developed, and aligned with professional development and administrative support.