Inquiry-based science in the middle grades: Assessment of learning in urban systemic reform
Science education standards established by American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National Research Council (NRC) urge less emphasis on memorizing scientific facts and more emphasis on students investigating the everyday world and developing deep understanding from their inquiries. These approaches to instruction challenge teachers and students, particularly urban students who often have additional challenges related to poverty. We report data on student learning spanning 3 years from a science education reform collaboration with the Detroit Public Schools. Data were collected from nearly 8,000 students who participated in inquiry-based and technology-infused curriculum units that were collaboratively developed by district personnel and staff from the University of Michigan as part of a larger, district-wide systemic reform effort in science education. The results show statistically significant increases on curriculum-based test scores for each year of participation. Moreover, the strength of the effects grew over the years, as evidenced by increasing effect size estimates across the years. The findings indicate that students who historically are low achievers in science can succeed in standards-based, inquiry science when curriculum is carefully developed and aligned with professional development and district policies. Additional longitudinal research on the development of student understanding over multiple inquiry projects, the progress of teacher enactment over time, and the effect of changes in the policy and administrative environment would further contribute to the intellectual and practical tools necessary to implement meaningful standards-based systemic reform in science.