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Thursday, March 18, 2010

STUDY: UNCP’s Science Education Program is North Carolina’s top performer

In a recent report published by the Carolina Institute for Public Policy, graduates of UNCP’s Science Education Program were recognized as the top performers in the state. 

Released in January, the comprehensive study linked students’ test scores on the N.C. End-of-Grade (EOG) and End-of-Course (EOC) exams to the teachers who taught the students and to the teacher’s college or university of licensure. The study analyzed 1.94 million EOG and EOC test scores in elementary, middle and high schools in 143,892 classrooms.

Rachel McBroom

Rachel McBroom

Leah Fiorentino

Leah Fiorentino

   
Black Line

The report titled “The Impact of Teacher Preparation on Student Learning in North Carolina Public Schools” is an initiative of the UNC system to improve public education.

Using EOC test scores in biology, chemistry, physics and physical science, four UNC undergraduate science education programs were identified as producing gains significantly better than those produced by other sources of teachers. Those institutions are Fayetteville State University, North Carolina State University, UNC Chapel Hill and UNCP. 

In many cases, the advantage to these programs is small. However, “in some cases, the advantage to UNC programs is more impressive,” the report states. Teachers from UNC Pembroke, the top performer in high school science, produced score gains that averaged 1.3 points higher on EOC science exams than score gains produced by teachers from non-UNC sources. As a way to understand the magnitude of this effect, if UNCP-prepared teachers had taught all of the state’s high school science courses with End of Course exams, the 2008 passing rate would have increased by about 4.0 percentage points.

Rachel McBroom, a faculty member of the Biology Department and Science Education Program coordinator, is pleased with the results of the study. Initially, she had serious concerns. 

“Most of our graduates teach in UNCP’s service region, which includes many of the state’s low-wealth school districts,” McBroom said. “It is well known that demographic factors and lack of funding for low-wealth schools can negatively impact student performance. 

“I was concerned how our program’s graduates would look when compared to those teaching in higher wealth systems, such as Wake County, Orange County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg,” she continued. “The study did an excellent job of controlling for the many variables that are beyond a teacher’s control.”

Dr. Leah Fiorentino, dean of UNCP’s School of Education, was also pleased with the results.

 “UNC Pembroke has a wonderful reputation across the state when it comes to preparing high quality teachers and administrators,” Dr. Fiorentino said. “The faculty members from the School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences deserve a round of applause for the positive results shared in this latest state report. 

“I am confident that our future graduates from the teacher preparation programs will continue the positive influence on K-12 student success throughout our service area,” she concluded.

Chancellor Charles Jenkins, a member of the School of Education faculty, also welcomed the news.

“We are encouraged by this positive report and want to continue our efforts in preparing the best teachers possible with some degree of emphasis on science and math,” Chancellor Jenkins said. “As a country we are falling behind in science and math, and if we are going to compete internationally in a global economy, we must place an emphasis on quality education and on science and math.”

The study included teachers completing the UNCP program between December 1994 and May 2005. McBroom, herself a 1997 graduate of the program, acknowledges the strong foundation laid for the program by retired UNCP science education faculty members Dr. Sue Bowden and Dr. Peter Wish.  

“Since returning to UNCP as a faculty member, I have tried to use my experiences as an undergraduate student in the program and in public schools to improve the program,” McBroom said. “I also value the input of our graduates as they enter the classroom. They are the best source of data in terms of what needs to be changed and improved.” 

Although changes have been made, UNCP’s program continues to place heavy emphasis on understanding the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, the National Science Education Standards and research-based teaching strategies for high school science. 

McBroom is proud of the results, but will once again focus her energies on one of the other UNC teacher education initiatives – teacher recruitment. The number of students enrolled in and graduating from the program has almost doubled since McBroom joined the faculty. 

“Our next challenge will be to continue to increase enrollment in our program while maintaining or improving the quality of teacher preparation,” she said.

Policy makers and education leaders agree that the production of more and better teachers is critical to improving the performance of public school students. To address this need, the UNC system has launched numerous initiatives over the past few years, including campus-based teacher recruitment plans and a series of studies assessing the effectiveness of teacher education programs and the effectiveness of teachers prepared in those programs.

Teachers in N.C. public schools can be licensed through a variety of routes, including completion of one of 15 teacher education programs in the UNC system, completion of a teacher education program at a private college or university in N.C., completion of an out-of-state program, and completion of alternative entry programs (frequently referred to as lateral entry), such as Teach for America.

For more questions about teacher education programs at UNCP, please contact the School of Education at 910.521.6539 or email soe@uncp.edu.

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