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Full text of "ERIC ED614850: Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER). Intervention Brief. Primary Science Topic Area. WWC 2021-015"

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IES RZ Institute of 
Amy Education Sciences 

Leadership and Assistance for Science 
Education Reform (LASER) 

Intervention Brief | Primary Science Topic Area 

September 2021 

WWC 2021-015 

A Publication of the National Center for Education Evaluation at IES 

Scientists, science educators, and educational policymakers 
emphasize the importance of teaching students about 
scientific inquiry rather than focusing solely on scientific 
content. Inquiry-based science interventions aim to improve 
students’ science proficiency by helping them understand 
scientific processes. In these interventions, students conduct 
hands-on investigations of science concepts and everyday 
phenomena, construct explanations for what they observe, 
consider alternative explanations, and communicate and 
justify their proposed explanations. Because implementing 
inquiry-based science instruction is challenging, the 
Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) developed 
Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform 
(LASER), a program designed to build capacity for effectively 
implementing inquiry-based science curricula in schools and 
districts. When participating in LASER, school or district 
teams attend leadership development institutes to plan the 
implementation of inquiry-based science curricula. These 
school or district teams receive support for key aspects 

of implementation such as professional development for 

teachers, access to instructional materials, and support for 
selecting appropriate assessments. LASER also helps schools 
and districts partner with scientists, science educators, and 
local business and community leaders who can promote 
and further support the implementation of inquiry-based 
science instruction. 

This What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) intervention 
report, part of the WWC’s Primary Science topic area, 
explores the effects of LASER on science achievement. 

The WWC identified two studies of LASER. One of these 
studies meets WWC standards. The evidence presented 

in this report is from one study of the effects of LASER on 
students, including 44% Hispanic, 31% White, 19% Black, 
3% American Indian/Alaska Native, and 2% Asian students. 
LASER was implemented in grade 3 and 6 classrooms at 
the start of the study with outcomes measured after 3 years 
of implementation when students were in grades 5 and 8. 
Study schools were located in 16 urban, suburban, and rural 
school districts in New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas. 

What Happens When Students Participate in LASER? 

The evidence indicates that implementing LASER has no 
discernible effects on science achievement. 

Findings on LASER from the one study that meets WWC 
standards are shown in Table 1. The table reports an 
effectiveness rating, an improvement index, and the number 
of studies and students that contributed to the findings. The 
effectiveness rating is based on the quality of the designs 
used in studies, whether the findings are favorable or 
unfavorable for the intervention, and the number of studies 
that tested the intervention. See Box 1 for more information 
on interpreting effectiveness ratings. 

In order to help readers judge the practical importance of 
an intervention’s effect, the WWC translates findings across 

studies into an “improvement index” by averaging findings 
that meet WWC standards within the same outcome domain. 
The improvement index can be interpreted as the expected 
change in percentile rank for an average comparison group 
student if that student had received the intervention. For 
example, an improvement index of -1 means that the expected 
percentile rank of the average comparison group student 
would decrease by 1 point if the student received LASER. A 
positive or negative improvement index does not necessarily 
mean the estimated effect is statistically significant. 

The evidence presented in this report is based on available 
research. Findings and conclusions could change as new 
research becomes available. 

Table 1. Summary of findings on LASER from one study that meets WWC standards 

Study Findings 

Evidence meeting WWC standards (version 4.0) 

Outcome domain Effectiveness rating 

Improvement index 
(percentile points) 

Number of studies Number of students 

Science achievement No discernible effects 

-1 1 6,291 

Note: The effects of LASER are not known for other outcomes within the Primary Science topic area, including life sciences, physical sciences, and earth/space sciences. 


The WWC evaluates evidence based on the quality and results of reviewed studies. The criteria the WWC uses for evaluating 
evidence are defined in the Procedures and Standards Handbooks and the Review Protocols. The studies summarized in this report 
were reviewed under WWC Standards (version 4.0) and the Primary Science topic area protocol (version 4.0). 

To determine the effectiveness rating, the WWC considers what methods each study used, the direction of the effects, and the 
number of studies that tested the intervention. The higher the effectiveness rating, the more certain the WWC is about the reported 
results and about what will happen if the same intervention is implemented again. The following key explains the relationship between 
effectiveness ratings and the statements used in this report: 

Effectiveness Rating Rating interpretation Description of the evidence 

Positive (or negative) effects The intervention is likely to change an Strong evidence of a positive (or negative) 
outcome effect, with no overriding contrary evidence 

Potentially positive (or negative) effects The intervention may change an outcome Evidence of a positive (or negative) effect with 
no overriding contrary evidence 

No discernible effects The intervention may result in little to no No affirmative evidence of effects 
change in an outcome 

Mixed effects The intervention has inconsistent effects Evidence includes studies in at least two of 
on an outcome these categories: studies with positive effects, 
studies with negative effects, or more studies 
with indeterminate effects than with positive or 
negative effects 

How is LASER Implemented? 

The following section provides details of how schools and 

districts can implement LASER. This information can help Comparison condition: In the one study that 
educators identify the requirements for implementing contributes to this intervention report, schools in the 
LASER and determine whether implementing this comparison group used their business-as-usual science 
intervention would be feasible in their schools or districts. curricula. Although some schools in the comparison 
Information on LASER presented in this section comes from group were using components of an inquiry-based 

the study that meets WWC standards (Zoblotsky et al., 2016) science curriculum, teachers and staff from these schools 

and from correspondence with the developer. did not participate in LASER leadership training and 
did not receive LASER program support for curriculum 

* Goal: The LASER program aims to build the capacity implementation or engagement of community partners. 

of schools and districts to implement an inquiry-based 
approach to science instruction to improve student 

Selected leadership teams, comprising administrators, 
teachers, parents, and community members from 
participating schools and districts, attend a week-long 
leadership development institute. After schools begin 
implementing the LASER model, leadership teams 
reconvene for 2- to 3-day sessions with other implementing 
* Method of delivery: SSEC staff provide in-person teams. Refer to Table 2 for additional details. 
leadership development institutes with follow-up coaching 
or support sessions by video conferencing as needed. The 
content of teacher professional development depends on 
the particular science curriculum that a school or district 
has selected for implementation. 

¢ Target population: LASER is intended for school and 
district leaders, state education agency leaders, and teachers 
who serve students in kindergarten through grade 12, as 
well as parents and local community partners supporting 
implementation of inquiry-based science curricula. 

¢ Intervention components: The LASER model (1) offers 
leadership development institutes to help leadership 
teams of school and district administrators, teachers, 
parents, and community partners plan to implement an 
inquiry-based science curriculum, (2) provides ongoing 

* Frequency and duration of service: LASER support for the implementation of this curriculum, and 
implementation occurs over a 2- to 3-year period (3) helps schools and districts establish partnerships 
and begins with a half-day or day-long session for with scientists, science educators, and local business and 
administrators, teachers, parents, and community community leaders to promote and further support the 
representatives to learn about the LASER model and begin implementation of inquiry-based science instruction. 
developing goals for implementing the program locally. Refer to Table 2 for additional details. 

Table 2. Components of LASER 

Key component 


development institutes 

Ongoing support 

for implementing an 
inquiry-based science 

partnerships to 
promote and support 
inquiry-based science 

LASER’ leadership development and capacity-building model is designed to support schools and districts in implementing inquiry- 
based science curricula with a series of leadership development institutes. These leadership development institutes include: 

* Building Awareness for STEM Education Institute: In the first of LASER’s three leadership development institutes, representatives from 
state or local education agencies, school administrators, teachers, parents, and community-based partners attend a half-day to 1-day 
training to learn about research on inquiry-based science education and the LASER model. Participants begin developing goals for 
implementing inquiry-based science education in their local area and select a leadership team to attend subsequent LASER institutes. 

* Leadership Development and Strategic Planning Institute: In this second LASER institute, leadership teams gather for a week-long 
training. Participating teams learn how different stakeholders (parents, teachers, principals, district leaders) typically respond to 
schocl- or district-wide initiatives to change educational practices in school settings, draft a strategic plan for implementing LASER’s 
five elements of inquiry-based science education in their local school or district, and connect with experts in inquiry-based science 
instruction and systemic school change, as well as colleagues in other regions who are also implementing LASER. 

+ Implementation Institute or Next Step Institute: After leadership teams have begun implementing inquiry-based science education, 
they can choose to attend a 2- to 3-day follow-up institute once per year, either a regional Implementation Institute or a national 
Next Step Institute. Leadership teams connect with other teams in their region or from other regions, assess which aspects of their 
initial strategic plan have been successful, and explore potential solutions to implementation challenges. 

For 3 years, the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) provides participating schools and districts ongoing support to 
implement an inquiry-based science curriculum that the leadership team selects. The SSEC also supports the implementation of 
the curriculum by helping schools: 

+ Plan and provide professional development to teachers that is aligned with the inquiry-based science curriculum and tailored 
to individual teachers’ science content knowledge and familiarity with inquiry-based instruction. Often, this includes peer 
coaching from current or former teachers with expertise in inquiry-based instruction to teachers with less experience. 

* Provide classrooms with cost-efficient and timely access to equipment and supplies that students need to participate in the 
inquiry-based science curriculum’s hands-on investigations. Typically, these hands-on learning activities require consumable 
materials (such as cotton swabs, chemicals, paper cups, or modeling clay) that must be replenished periodically so other 
students can participate in the investigations. 

* Select and use assessments that capture student learning in both science content and the scientific process, enable teachers to 
diagnose and address student misconceptions, and align instruction to state or school district science standards. Teams may also 
administer assessments of student attitudes toward STEM and of teachers’ instructional practice or content knowledge. 

In Zoblotsky et al. (2016), the SSEC provided districts and schools participating in LASER with its Science and Technology Concepts 
(STC™) curriculum, including Spanish-language versions of instructional materials. Teachers in study schools implementing LASER 
received introductory- and intermediate-level professional development from the SSEC. The SSEC developed online videos to sup- 
port teachers’ ongoing professional development and provided schools with a regional coordinator who worked with principals and 
teachers to address implementation concerns. STC™ is designed to be implemented as a series of units over the course of a school 
year in each grade. Teachers reported completing only one unit of the STC™ curriculum during the first year of the study, two units 
during the second year, and two or three units during the third year. In response to a WWC author query, the study authors confirmed 
that schools implementing LASER were asked to use the STC™ curriculum as their only science curriculum. 

The SSEC partners with scientists and science educators in local businesses, nonprofits, universities, and other organizations to 
promote inquiry-based science education to school and district administrators and provide additional expertise and resources to 
help schools and districts address implementation challenges, such as aligning the inquiry-based curriculum to state standards. 

In Zoblotsky et al. (2016), the SSEC engaged the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation to help cultivate partnerships 
with school districts and provide staffing, space, and logistical support for schools to receive, store, and refurbish STC™ 
hands-on science kits. It also partnered with the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center to 
help build support for LASER among principals and school district staff, convene workshops to help align STC™ units to state 
curricular standards, and develop supplementary units and extension activities for participating teachers. Finally, the SSEC 
worked directly with the Houston Independent School District Science Department to modify scope and sequence documents 
and instructional calendars to help teachers integrate the STC™ units into the school district's science curriculum plan. 

What Does LASER Cost? 
This preliminary list of costs is not designed to be exhaus- described in Table 3 are based on the information available 
tive; rather, it provides educators an overview of the major as of February 2020. 

resources needed to implement LASER. The program costs 

Table 3. Cost ingredients for LASER 

Cost ingredients Description Source of funding 

Personnel The costs of the Building Awareness for STEM Education Institute varies based on School districts or schools pay registration 
duration, number of attendees, and facilities available. The Leadership Development and _ fees and associated travel costs for 
Strategic Planning Institute has a registration fee of $7,000 for a team of five individuals. | each LASER leadership institute. School 
The Implementation Institute costs vary by region. The national Next Step Institute costs _ districts or schools pay for teacher 
$425 per individual or $1,200 for a team of three. Teacher professional development professional development costs. 
costs depend on the inquiry-based curriculum the school district or school selects. 

Costingredients Description Source of funding 

Facilities Leadership development institutes are hosted by Smithsonian Science Education Center School districts or schools provide 
staff who provide physical space for the sessions. Teacher professional development physical space for teacher professional 
occurs in the school or school district, which is responsible for providing the physical development and classroom instruction. 

space for training activities. The inquiry-based curriculum that the school district or school 
selects is implemented in students’ regular classrooms during science instruction time. 

Equipment and _ The costs of materials provided to teams attending a LASER leadership institute The registration fees that school districts 
materials are included in the registration fees. Because the LASER model does not specify a or schools pay for leadership institutes 
particular curriculum, the cost of equipment and materials, including any consumable cover the cost of materials provided to 
supplies that students use to conduct hands-on investigations as well as reusable attendees. School districts or schools pur- 
instructional materials, varies depending on the curriculum selected by school districts chase curriculum and related materials 
or schools that participate in LASER. for students and teachers to use. 

For More Information: 

About LASER About the study that meets WWC standards 
Smithsonian Science Education Center Zoblotsky, T., Bertz, C., Gallagher, B., & Alberg, M. (2016). 
901 D Street SW, Suite 704-B The LASER model: A systematic and sustainable approach 
Washington, DC, 20024 for achieving high standards in science education: SSEC 
Attn: Carol L. O'Donnell i3 Validation final report of confirmatory and exploratory 
Email: Web: analyses. Center for Research in Educational Policy, 
laser-model. Phone: (202) 633-2972 University of Memphis. httos:// 

About the cost of the intervention Zoblotsky etal 2016 Smithsonian LASER i3 Validation 
Information about the cost of the intervention was provided by Report FINAL 09 01 16.pdf 

the Smithsonian Science Education Center. 

In What Context Was LASER Studied? 

The following section pr@titlesNifiten 2tQ%0B lhelsetting information can help educators understand the context in 
of the studyogf Anse cbt. MGA VNE Se Nati! nd which the study of LASER was conducted and determine 
a description of hep A epant sy, Ror SoBe whether the program might be suitable for their setting. 


1 study, 6,291 students in 116 elementary and middle schools in 16 districts 
Rly “€ in New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas 

Urban, suburban, and rural districts 

Race 3% 2% Ethnicity 

eco Ul 46% 

White Black Asian Not specified : Unknown ethnicity Hispanic 

American Indian or Alaska Native 

Free & Reduced-Price Special Gender: 50% Female 
Lunch: 59% : Education: 9% 50% Male 

cots eK 1 2 £OOCOOOO 

Grade 3—8 


Read more about the LASER intervention and the studies that are summarized in this brief in the Intervention Report.