Effects of Making Sense of SCIENCE Professional Development on the Achievement of Middle School Students, Including English Language Learners

Primary Researchers: Joan Heller

Publication Date: March 2012


The need for better preparation of science teachers is clear: more than two-thirds of middle school science teachers in the United States have inadequate science preparation (Fulp 2002). Only 28 percent of science teachers in grades 6–8 have an undergraduate degree in science (Fulp 2002). Quality professional development for middle school teachers is especially important because each teacher directly affects up to six or seven classes of students during each semester or quarter, considerably more than elementary school teachers.

This study evaluated an approach to professional development for middle school science teachers by closely examining one grade 8 course that embodies that approach. The Making Sense of SCIENCETM approach focuses on developing teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge.

Using a cluster-randomized experimental design, the study tested the effectiveness of a Making Sense of SCIENCETM professional development course on force and motion (Daehler, Shinohara, and Folsom 2011) by comparing outcomes for teachers who took the course with outcomes for a control group of teachers that included no science professional development beyond that ordinarily received. Course impact was estimated for grade 8 students in the study sample, for the subsample of English language learners, and for teachers.

The professional development intervention was implemented regionally, with local facilitators leading the course for local teachers at each of six research sites. The five course sessions were sequenced so that the science topics built on one another. The corresponding science language issues and strategies for supporting student learning and language development were unveiled incrementally over the sessions.

Outcomes on 8th grade students’ knowledge of science were measured using the Assessing Teacher Learning About Science Teaching (ATLAST) Test of Force and Motion (http://www.horizon-research.com/atlast/; Smith and Banilower 2006a) which was administered during the study.

Course impact on these outcomes was estimated for all grade 8 students in the study sample and for the subsample of English language learners. The study also estimated program effects on teachers’ content knowledge their self-reported confidence in teaching science.

Outcomes were measured for teachers during both the 2008/09 and 2009/10 school years and for students during the 2009/10 school year. Teachers in the intervention group received a 24-hour Making Sense of SCIENCETM professional development course on force and motion in summer 2009. Intervention group teachers did not receive additional Making Sense of SCIENCETM professional development or support during the school year.

Teachers were nested in randomization strata within research sites; for student-level outcomes, students were nested within teachers. Therefore, multilevel regression models (hierarchical linear models) were estimated to provide evidence on the research questions. Adjusted post-intervention outcomes for students and teachers in the intervention group were compared with the outcomes for their counterparts in the control group.

The complete study findings can be found in both the Executive Summary and the full report here.

  • Published: March 2012
  • Methodologies: Experimental
  • Contact info:
    Neal Finkelstein 415.615.3171


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