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Identifying and Measuring STEM Schools and Programs: A Taxonomy to Bring Coherence to the Field

Mon, April 11, 4:30 to 6:30pm, Convention Center, Level Two, Room 206


In 2013, the National Research Council published Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education: A Nation Advancing? that delineated 14 indicators for tracking the nation’s progress in STEM education. The report also called for a national-level monitoring and reporting system to measure the indicators. In an initial effort to move towards such a system, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a Dear Colleague solicitation in April 2014 for projects to conduct exploratory work and lay the foundation for the development of these measures.

This paper describes work addressing the first of those Indicators: Number of, and enrollment in, STEM-focused schools and programs in each district. STEM schools and programs are rapidly emerging as the momentum to increase access to and improve STEM education programs continues to grow. There is an urgent need to form consensus on what STEM schools and programs are, in order to measure and monitor their progress towards achieving desired outcomes. This research project is developing a mechanism to identify and describe STEM schools and programs in order to create a foundation for research that identifies the schools, programs, and their comprising components that are most effective.

A fundamental premise of this research is that there is not, nor should there be a single definition of a STEM school or program. STEM schools have different purposes and different approaches for widely varied populations and contexts. Therefore, this research seeks to create a way that researchers can communicate with, learn from, and collaborate with one another. Given that STEM schools are still relatively new and research is only now emerging, the goal of this project is to facilitate clear accumulation of knowledge on STEM school implementation and effectiveness.

This work began with a search of literature on STEM schools specifically targeting works that offered definitions of STEM schools and programs. The search also included non-academic works, with a specific emphasis on rubrics developed by states, school districts, schools and networks for identifying their local STEM schools and programs. Informed by 17 studies and seven state rubrics, we derived a taxonomy to systematically describe different types of STEM schools and programs.

The taxonomy focuses on three essential criteria that distinguish STEM schools from their general counterparts. If a school meets one or more of these criteria, it crosses the “threshold” for being a STEM school. The premise underlying each of the criteria is that they represent “more STEM” than the quality STEM education experience that all students in the country should have. In different combinations, the three criteria generate seven types of STEM schools. This paper will describe the three key criteria as well as a set of fourteen additional STEM school components that may be part of STEM schools in varying combinations. In addition to describing the taxonomy, the paper will also explain how the taxonomy applies to STEM programs and the distinctions between STEM schools and STEM programs.


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