Cover: Improving Mathematics and Science Education

Improving Mathematics and Science Education

A Longitudinal Investigation of the Relationship Between Reform-Oriented Instruction and Student Achievement

Published Sep 8, 2006

by Vi-Nhuan Le, Brian M. Stecher, J. R. Lockwood, Laura S. Hamilton, Abby Robyn, Valerie L. Williams, Gery W. Ryan, Kerri A. Kerr, Jose Felipe Martinez, Stephen P. Klein


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The term reform-oriented teaching describes a collection of instructional practices that are designed to engage students as active participants in their own learning and to enhance the development of complex cognitive skills and processes. This monograph presents the findings of a multiyear National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded study of the effectiveness of reform-oriented science and mathematics instruction. It builds on an earlier RAND study, called the Mosaic project, which found “a weak but positive relationship” between reform-oriented practices and student achievement. The present study, called Mosaic II, extends this earlier research in two important ways. First, it incorporates more-diverse indicators of student exposure to reform-oriented practices, including innovative, vignette-based measures. Second, it follows students for three years in order to measure the relationship after longer exposure to reform practices.

Mosaic II was designed to answer two major research questions:

  • Is the use of reform-oriented instructional practices in mathematics and science associated with higher student achievement?
  • Is the relationship between reform-oriented practices and achievement sensitive to the aspects of achievement that are measured?

The research was conducted in three districts that participated in the NSF Local Systemic Change program, although the study is not an evaluation of the implementation or impact of that specific program.

We found nonsignificant or weak positive relationships between reform-oriented instruction in mathematics and science and student achievement measured using multiple-choice tests. The results also reinforce the message that measurement matters — i.e., the observed relationship between reform-oriented instruction and achievement may depend on how achievement is measured. It is common practice to use existing state or district tests as measures of program effectiveness, because it is often not feasible to administer additional tests. Our analysis indicates that this decision may influence findings.

Results should be of interest to educators and policymakers concerned with improving mathematics and science education.

Background details on and tabulated results of this study are included in supporting appendixes on a CD-ROM that is included with the printed version of this document.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and was conducted by RAND Education, a unit of the RAND Corporation.

This report is part of the RAND monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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