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Title: When the Rubber Meets the Road -- Putting Research-based Methods to Test in Urban Classrooms
Authors: Li, Junlei
Klahr, David
Jabbour, Amanda
Issue Date: Jun-2006
Publisher: International Society of the Learning Sciences
Citation: Li, J., Klahr, D., & Jabbour, A. (2006). When the Rubber Meets the Road -- Putting Research-based Methods to Test in Urban Classrooms. In Barab, S. A., Hay, K. E., & Hickey, D. T. (Eds.), The International Conference of the Learning Sciences: Indiana University 2006. Proceedings of ICLS 2006, Volume 1 (pp. 418-424). Bloomington, Indiana, USA: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
Abstract: We created a hypothetically "optimal" instructional scenario in which a knowledgeable researcher, under the guidance of an experienced classroom teacher, carried out a set of research- based science instruction in a low-SES urban school. The training group's performance was assessed by standardized test items and compared with that of a high-SES no training comparison group. The results demonstrate that instructional methods based on experimental psychological research have great potential for addressing the achievement gap problem. However, the analyses also reveal a significant discrepancy between low-SES students' performance on standardized test items and on alternative assessments with lower reading and writing demands. We discuss our methodological choices in making basic research more relevant to real world issues. We highlight the critical challenges of test validity, research relevancy, and reform feasibility for researchers and policymakers. Introduction Current federal legislation on education (No Child Left Behind Act, 2002) listed the following as necessary conditions for closing the achievement gap: 1) adopting research-based teaching practices, 2) having high quality teachers, and 3) using standardized tests as accountability measures. We tested this legislative assumption by putting instructional resources presumably meeting these three conditions into low-SES urban school science classrooms. Specifically, we adapted for classroom use instruction and materials previously tested in random- assignment experimental studies. We ensured teacher quality and implementation fidelity by having a researcher- teacher conduct the classroom instruction under the supervision of an experienced classroom teacher. We held ourselves accountable by measures consisting of both researcher-designed assessment instruments and original standardized test items selected from publicly or commercially available standardized tests, such as the Third International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS], the National Assessment for Educational Progress [NAEP], and the Terra Nova Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills [CTBS]. We tested whether this instructional scenario, designed specifically to meet the above NCLB criteria, would close the achievement gap in one single topic area in our local setting. Through this evaluation, we assessed the potential for basic psychological research to inform practice, explored the adaptations researchers need to make in transferring research-based instruction to classroom settings, and encountered new challenges for basic experimental studies to become practical and relevant for real- world classrooms. We set as our instructional goal the mastery of an important component skill of scientific inquiry how to design unconfounded scientific experiments. It is a skill explicitly included in nearly all national and state science inquiry standards (e.g., American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; National Research Council [NRC], 1996). Standardized science tests at international, national, and state levels have consistently assessed this particular inquiry component (e.g., International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement TIMSS 1995 released items; National Center for Education Statistics NAEP 1996 released items). In addition to its prominence in K-12 science education, experimental design skill has also been well studied in cognitive and psychological research in terms of its acquisition (with or without training), development, and transfer (e.g., Ross, 1988; Chen & Klahr, 1999; Klahr & Nigam, 2004; Klahr & Li, 2005; Kuhn, Amsel, & O'Loughlin, 1988). Like only a few handful domains in science (e.g., forces and motions in physics), designing experiments is at a point of convergence among science standards, standardized assessments, and basic research. Such convergence makes the mastery of this skill an ideal instructional goal under which to explore issues of research, practice, and assessment. Background Children up to late elementary school age have only a partial grasp of the logic and procedure of experimental design (Kuhn, Garcia-Mila, Zohar, & Anderson, 1995; Schauble, 1996). However, these deficiencies do not imply a lack of developmental readiness to learn. Training studies have shown that various methods, ranging from mere exposure to experimental tasks to explicit instruction, can improve children's understanding and use of variable control (Case, 1974; Kuhn & Angelev, 1976; Ross, 1988; Schauble, 1996; Chen & Klahr, 1999).
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