Elementary Teachers' Beliefs About Teaching Science and Classroom Practice: An Examination of Pre/Post NCLB Testing in Science

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The impact of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandated state science assessment on elementary teachers' beliefs about teaching science and their classroom practice is relatively unknown. For many years, the teaching of science has been minimized in
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  Elementary Teachers’ Beliefs About Teaching Scienceand Classroom Practice: An Examination of Pre/PostNCLB Testing in Science Andrea R. Milner  • Toni A. Sondergeld  • Abdulkadir Demir  • Carla C. Johnson  • Charlene M. Czerniak Published online: 25 March 2011   The Association for Science Teacher Education, USA 2011 Abstract  The impact of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandated state scienceassessment on elementary teachers’ beliefs about teaching science and their class-room practice is relatively unknown. For many years, the teaching of science hasbeen minimized in elementary schools in favor of more emphasis on reading andmathematics. This study examines the dynamics of bringing science to the forefrontof assessment in elementary schools and the resulting teacher belief and instruc-tional shifts that take place in response to NCLB. Results indicated that teachers’beliefs about teaching science remained unchanged despite policy changes man-dated in NCLB. Teacher beliefs related to their perceptions of what their admin-istrators and peer groups’ think they should be doing influenced their practice themost. Most teachers reported positive feelings and attitudes about science andreported that their students had positive feelings and attitudes about science; A. R. Milner ( & )Adrian College, Adrian, MI 49221, USAe-mail: amilner@adrian.eduT. A. SondergeldBowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH 43403, USAe-mail: tsonder@bgsu.eduA. DemirGeorgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30302, USAe-mail: kadir@gsu.eduC. C. JohnsonUniversity of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45221, USAe-mail: Johnsc2@ucmail.uc.eduC. M. Czerniak University of Toledo, Toledo, OH 43606, USAe-mail: charlene.czerniak@utoledo.edu  1 3 J Sci Teacher Educ (2012) 23:111–132DOI 10.1007/s10972-011-9230-7  however, teachers reported teaching science less as a result of NCLB. Implicationsfor elementary science education reform and policy are discussed. Restructuring Science Education Nationally In response to the realization that other nations have surpassed the U.S. in inno-vative scientific and technological discovery and potentially economic prosperity,public decision-makers have lobbied to make science and mathematics education atop priority (The Obama-Biden Plan 2009). Paralleling the suggestions put forth in  Rising Above the Gathering Storm  (CSEPP 2007), national leaders in education andgovernment have developed priorities for science education. Over the last decade,these national priorities have evolved from influential policy reports demandingcomprehensive changes in science teaching and learning. Several of these reportsinclude Project 2061 developed by the American Association for the Advancementof Science (Rutherford and Ahlgren 1989), the National Science EducationStandards developed by the National Research Council and Academy of Science(NAP 1996), and America 2000 (1991) developed by a committee of the nation’s governors. Together, the recommendations aim to prepare a scientifically literatenational work force that is prepared to compete in an increasingly scientifically andtechnologically oriented global economy.More recently, the Carnegie Foundation report entitled  Opportunity Equation (2009) recommends focusing on four priority areas: (1) higher levels of mathematics and science learning for all American students; (2) common standardsin mathematics and science that are fewer, clearer, and higher coupled with alignedassessments; (3) improved teaching and professional learning, supported by betterschool and system management; and (4) new designs for schools and systems todeliver mathematics and science learning more effectively. The current U.S.Presidential administration has also proposed a plan that prioritizes mathematics andscience instruction in the attempt to prepare young citizens to be active members of a technologically-dependent society (The Obama-Biden Plan 2009). The  Plan For  Lifetime Success Through Education  seeks to reform the  No Child Left Behind  (NCLB)  Act of 2001  (U.S. Department of Education 2002), however that will takesome time to accomplish. In the meantime states, schools, and teachers muststrategically work within the confines of this policy to deliver the highest qualityeducation possible to this nation’s youngest citizens.NCLB is a federal act that mandates school accountability in its provision of federal funds (Mahoney and Zigler 2006). Its primary mission is to eliminate thegaps in academic achievement that are a result of educational inequities due tosocial status (Marx and Harris 2006). NCLB relies on large-scale testing (Neil2003), and when it was first enacted, only mathematics and reading were amongthose subject areas tested. However, in the Spring of 2007, science and socialstudies were added to the testing requirement, thus leading to many potentialconsequences for the design of the science curriculum, and more importantly, theinstructional delivery of science in classrooms across the nation (Johnson 2007a). 112 A. R. Milner et al.  1 3  Restructuring Science Education Locally Ironically, despite the good intentions of reforming science education at the nationallevel, the success of reforms is dependent on the changes that occur at the classroomlevel (Anderson and Helms 2001; Johnson et al. 2007). Change in science teaching practice requires support of local administration and is most effective when acritical mass of teachers within the school are on board (Anderson and Helms 2001;Berns and Swanson 2000; Johnson 2009). External supports for teachers overall, such as resources, preparation time, and administrative support to teach science arerare (Berns and Swanson 2000). It has been well-documented in the researchliterature that elementary teachers lack the content knowledge and, subsequently,the confidence to teach science effectively to their students (Crawford 2000; Keysand Bryan 2000; Weiss 1978, 1987; Weiss and Place 1978). Supovitz and Turner (2000) found that individual teachers’ content knowledge has a ‘‘powerfulinfluences on teachers’ uses of inquiry-based practices and investigative classroomculture’’ (p. 976). Murphy et al. (2007) used a mixed-methods research design toexplore some of the key issues hindering the progress of science education. Theyfound that the major issue elementary teachers face is the lack of ability andconfidence to teach science. Additionally, research on teacher’s beliefs suggests astrong relationship between beliefs and classroom practices. The Role of Teachers’ Beliefs on Classroom Practice Teachers’ beliefs can be described as their convictions, philosophy, tenants, oropinions about teaching and learning. Both prospective and inservice teachers havedeveloped their beliefs about teaching from two primary extensive experiences;namely, the years spent in the classroom as both students and teachers (Perry 1990).Disconcertingly, the beliefs of teachers are not necessarily consistent with theliterature about best practice in teaching (Battista 1994; Fetters et al. 2002; Haney et al. 1996). Moreover, teachers’ beliefs appear to be stable and resistant to change(Kagan 1992; Lumpe et al. 2000). Additionally, teachers’ perceived lack of support from colleagues and principals have a significant effect on their beliefs (Friedman2003; Johnson 2007b). Consequently, problems may arise if classroom teachers and their beliefs about reform are ignored and thus, teacher self-efficacy and belief structure should be directly addressed (Fetters et al. 2002; Haney et al. 2002, 2003; Marshall et al. 2009). The Rand Change Agent Study conducted from 1973 to 1978reported that effective change and program implementation depended more uponlocal factors than ‘‘top down’’ methods (McLaughlin 1990). McLaughlin (1987) indicated, ‘‘What actually is delivered or provided under the aegis of a policydepends finally on the individual at the end of the line’’ (p. 174). Specifically toscience education, Clark and Peterson (1985) claim that teachers and their beliefsmay play a major role in science education reform since teachers’ beliefs lead toactions and these actions impact students. This critical relationship between thebeliefs of teachers regarding implementation of reform efforts and instructional Beliefs About Teaching Science and Classroom Practice 113  1 3  decisions is well documented (Crawley and Salyer 1995; Johnson 2006; Haney et al. 1996).According to Bandura (1986), beliefs are thought to be the best indicators of thedecisions people make throughout their lives. Yet, beliefs are often confused withother related concepts such as attitudes, values, judgments, concepts, anddispositions. Pajares (1992) explained that clusters of beliefs around a particularsituation form attitudes, and attitudes become action agendas that guide decisionsand behavior. In other words, people act upon what they believe. The connectionsamong clusters of beliefs create an individual’s values that guide one’s life andultimately determine behavior (Ajzen 1985). Teachers possess beliefs regardingprofessional practice. Since their beliefs may impact their actions, teachers’ beliefsplay a critical role in paving restructuring science education. Theory of Planned Behavior Several research models have been employed to examine human beliefs because of the growing interest in the role of peoples’ beliefs and their relationship to behavior.Specifically, Ajzen and Madden’s Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) (1986) waseffective in identifying belief factors influencing intention and behavior. The TPBconsists of direct measures of three constructs: attitude toward the behavior (ABD),subjective norm (SND), and perceived behavioral control (PBCD) (see Fig. 1).Attitude toward the behavior (AB) encompasses the beliefs about theconsequences of performing a particular behavior and the evaluations of thoseconsequences. In other words, the AB represents a personal dimension. Subjectivenorm (SN) represents a social dimension regarding an individual’s belief about theextent to which other people, important to his/her life, think the behavior should beperformed. Perceived behavioral control (PBC) refers to beliefs regarding theexistence of both resources and obstacles related to engaging in the behavior(Crawley and Koballa 1992). Theory of Planned Behavior Salient Beliefs Salient Beliefs Salient Beliefs Attitude toward the Behavior ABD Subjective Norm SND Perceived Behavioral Control PBCD Behavioral Intent BI BehaviorB Fig. 1  Theory of planned behavior114 A. R. Milner et al.  1 3  Together, the attitude toward behavior (AB), subjective norm (SN), and perceivedbehavioral control (PBC) constructs theoretically influence a persons’ intent toengage in a particular target behavior; called behavioral intention (BI). In turn,behavioral intention directly influences a persons’ actions or behavior (B), andsalient beliefs and the evaluations of those beliefs influence a persons’ ABD (directmeasure of attitude toward behavior), SND (direct measure of subjective norm), andPBCD (direct measure of perceived behavioral control). The salient beliefs representa collection of the specific AB, SN, and PBC beliefs about the target behavior, thus,they produce indirect measures of the three constructs (ABI, SNI and PBCI).Ultimately, the Theory of Planned Behavior links a persons’ behavior to attitudes,social support, and beliefs about both internal and external control factors. TheTheory of Planned Behavior is a theoretical model that is causal and unidirectional.As a model of human behavior, a person’s behavior is influenced by his/her salientbeliefs and his/her salient beliefs are influenced by experiences; in other words,people learn from their experiences. Both social science researchers and scienceeducators have used the Theory of Planned Behavior to trace the relationship of beliefs and intention (see Crawley and Koballa 1992; and Koballa and Crawley 1992 for an extensive review of this research). However, few studies used the Theory of Planned Behavior to examine the beliefs and intentions of science teachers withregard to reform efforts (See Crawley 1990 and Haney et al. 1996 as exceptions). Need for This Study Science is now a critical, high stakes subject under NCLB. Therefore, it is importantthat research emerge from the field to compare elementary science teachers’ beliefsand behavior prior to and after the change in testing requirements. Since NCLB wasin effect for 7 years prior to adding science as a component, it is feasible to conductstudies that compare elementary science teachers’ beliefs and classroom practicesbefore and after the science assessment portion of NCLB was implemented.For the first few years after the implementation of NCLB, schools and teachersdirected most of their energy and resources toward mathematics and readinginstruction, while science was positioned as a lesser priority (Johnson 2007a; Keeley2009). Griffith and Scharmann (2008) found that elementary teachers, in fact, cut time from science instruction as a result of NCLB in favor of increased time formathematics and reading instruction. A recent study found that the NCLB law liftedmath scores (Zehr 2009), but we know little about the impact on science teaching.Therefore, there is a necessity for the gap in the literature to be filled withcontemporary research that focuses on if and how elementary teachers’ beliefs aboutteaching science have changed as a result of the NCLB science assessment changes.Additionally, the pressure on teachers to yield high test scores encourages themto prioritize fact memorization and drill-and-practice routines at the expense of standards-based instruction (Anderson 2007). These rote instructional methods leadto a lesser degree of conceptual understanding than the latter strategy (Panijpanet al. 2008). Thus, there is a need to explore changes in classroom practices beforeand after the implementation of science testing in NCLB. Beliefs About Teaching Science and Classroom Practice 115  1 3
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