Indicator 1

STEM-focused Schools and Programs

This indicator addresses the number of and enrollment in different types of STEM schools and programs in each district. The intent is to measure the extent to which all students have the opportunity to pursue some kind of focused experience in STEM as a part of their K-12 education.

Related DCL Awards (2): Century & LaForceMandinach & Orland


Priority: High

Although not identified as a priority in the Monitoring Progress report, it is recommended that STEM-focused schools be prioritized based on the recommendation to increase the number of STEM-focused schools in the recent 5-Year Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Strategic Plan produced by the Administration (National Science and Technology Council, 2013). Indicator 1 also closely aligns with Congressman Wolf’s initial request to NSF in 2010 to identify successful STEM schools. Additions to NCES survey items would capture information on this indicator.

Operational Definition

A STEM-focused school is one that (1) identifies science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics as a special emphasis, and (2) provides all of its students with a more intensive program of instruction in STEM subjects than is required by its district and state. Multiple school models meet this definition. Selective STEM-focused schools admit students through a competitive process by requiring an entrance examination or using a combination of test scores and prior achievement. Inclusive STEM-focused schools admit students primarily on the basis of STEM interest rather than test scores or other measures of prior achievement. At the high school level, selective and inclusive STEM-focused schools share a college preparatory curriculum focus that sets them apart from STEM-focused Career Technical Education (CTE) schools. CTE schools prepare students for entry into a STEM-related job, apprenticeship program, or 2-year program of study for a specific career field.

Collecting information on this indicator through a survey approach will be best accomplished with a s series of items than any single item. First, school leaders can be asked whether or not their school has a special program emphasis or curricular theme that all students participate in and if so, whether it is based on STEM. The distinction between inclusive and selective STEM schools can be made using existing NCES survey data on whether or not a school uses test scores in determining admission; researchers can then verify reported levels of selectivity by comparing prior achievement scores for a school’s incoming students with those of students entering other schools in the same district, region, or state. Among nonselective STEM-focused high schools, we can distinguish between those intending to prepare students for STEM college majors (i.e., inclusive STEM high schools) from those preparing students for industry certification and STEM-related occupations requiring less than a bachelor’s degree by examining the school’s curriculum. One option is to use the high school’s mathematics requirement as a proxy for a college STEM readiness mission.

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