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Closing Gaps: Connecting Assessment and Culture to Increase Achievement: 1626939

Principal Investigator: Sharon Nelson-Barber
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Jonathan Boxerman, Matt Silberglitt
Organization: WestEd

This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students’ motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by investigating ways to make science assessment and science instruction more culturally relevant to Native Hawaiians. Closing Gaps: Connecting Assessment and Culture to Increase Achievement, a three-year design and development study, opens new doors for understanding how technology can enhance teaching and learning. The project focuses on ways in which technology-rich learning environments can improve instruction and assessment practices for diverse indigenous students. It combines two innovative learning technologies — SimScientists and FieldScope — that support STEM teaching and learning through the practices of science. Teachers in the Na Lei Na’auao Native Hawaiian Charter School Alliance use these innovative technologies in their classrooms and on ecosystems-themed field trips. Project researchers will study how features of each technology can foster learning and enhance assessment. The project addresses a persistent limitation of STEM learning: students’ lack of access to connected and familiar experiences that can help build foundational knowledge. Although new technologies to support STEM learning are available each year, many deliver inaccessible information because the context of the information is unfamiliar and does not relate to children’s own experiences and intuitive knowledge. This promotes fragile understandings rather than the kinds of knowledge valued by NGSS and in work environments. This project explores how to design educational learning tools that can be adapted to a local context yet be standardized enough to align with state and national guidelines. Findings may prove critical in improving test development practices for diverse populations. Testing in diverse indigenous communities is underexplored; little is known about how assessments can be adapted to serve the dual role of assessing content and practice standards while attending to specifics of the local context. This project intends to enhance the educational advancement of all students in STEM areas.

This project intends to advance the field of educational technology to maximize benefits of cultural and contextual diversity in technology-rich learning environments. It addresses four research questions: (1) Can features of two learning technologies be customized to be both contextually relevant and aligned with standardized learning goals?; (2) Can technology-rich learning environments be used to make salient connections between instruction and the culture in which learning is situated?; (3) Can assessment embedded into technology-rich learning environments be responsive to ways of knowing and demonstrating understanding unique to an indigenous culture?; and (4) Can assessment embedded in technology-rich learning environments support inferences about student understanding of the practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts of science with appropriate and sufficient evidence? In Year 1, the project will conduct initial feasibility studies with students and teachers to inform revisions to existing SimScientists modules and reflection activities. In Year 2, the project will revise existing modules to enhance their cultural relevance and then conduct small-scale usability and feasibility testing with the revised modules. In Year 3, the customized modules will be piloted with 12 teachers. Data collection and analysis strategies include: (a) design charrettes; (b) focus groups and usability testing; (c) cognitive labs for cultural relevance, construct validity and innovation impacts; (d) pre/posttest of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) items; (e) benchmark assessment data; (f) teacher surveys; (i) case studies; (j) classroom and field trip participant observations (k) differential item functioning; (l) analysis of covariance; and (m) analysis of variance on posttest scores (outcome variable) to compare the means across student groups (by intervention mode) and their prior science achievement levels to measure the technical quality of the assessments. Project success means students will make personal connections between the knowledge they gain throughout the course of their lives and the knowledge that is important in STEM fields, offering additional ways to see the value and possibilities of STEM careers.

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