A Comparative Evaluation of STEM Education Indicators in the Era of Accountability

By Wang, Jianjun | International Journal of Education, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Comparative Evaluation of STEM Education Indicators in the Era of Accountability


Wang, Jianjun, International Journal of Education


Abstract

As Common Core Standards gain momentum in the United States, it has been claimed to have curricular support from international studies. Accordingly, evidence of student learning is reviewed in this article to assess effectiveness of imported school curricula in the Washington DC area. The analysis is expanded to include confounding factors that impact school hours as a quantifiable variable. Meanwhile, additional indicators have been incorporated from higher education to facilitate the result triangulation across K-16 education. The research findings reveal importance of test fairness from comparative studies, i.e., when schools are under local control, no single international test can ensure a fair match to various curricula, nor does the result provide a valid measure of school accountability in STEM education.

Keywords: measurement issue; STEM education; assessment indicator

1. Introduction

Rapid development of information technology has transformed the landscape of education, and facilitated evidence gathering to support comparisons of student learning in a cross-national context. Accompanied with this change is a challenge of interpreting education indicators from different countries. Bonnet (2002) observed,

Policy makers show strong interest in international studies and comparative indicators because of the widespread belief that education is an investment necessary for the development of human capital and that there is a direct relationship between how good an education system is in terms of results and how successful the corresponding country is from an economic point of view. (p. 388)

As the global economy becomes more dependent on international competitions, quality of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education needs to be examined in comparative studies. A purpose of this research is to assess indicators of comparative education that impact curricular setting in local schools. As Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, suggested that "To the extent that the U.S. can copy or adapt, and beg, borrow and steal successful practice from other nations, we should do so" (see White, 2012).

Built on the assumption that countries can learn from each other, research questions that guide this investigation are:

1. What are the evidences from the measurement of student learning to support implementation of new school curricula imported from other nations?

2. What are the confounding factors of school setting that impact the connection between school hours and education expectations?

3. What are the comparative indicators pertinent to assessing the leading position of U.S. in higher education?

4. What are the persistent issues of international testing directly hindering a fair comparison of student performance in a cross-national context?

In contrast to most action research within local schools, "International comparisons expand the range of comparison beyond the parochial limits of the U.S. national experience" (Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, 1990, p. 2). Therefore, research in comparative education holds the promise of informing school accountability measures in the United States.

2. Literature Review

Educational accountability has gained attention of the general public for many years. Under George W. Bush's administration, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) mandates annual testing in math and reading for all students in grades 3-8 and, at least once more, in grades 9-12 (Matthews, 2013). After President Obama entered the White House, more tests have been added to the Race to the Top initiative (Acharya, 2013). The so-called "Accountability Movement" can be tracked back to the Cold War era when indicators of STEM education were linked to U.S. national security (Gibbs & Howley, 2000).

Despite U.S. economic recession since 2007, curriculum changes have been promoted by professional organizations to raise STEM education standards (White, 2012). …

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