It’s a question that every educator needs to ask-beyond the gloss and glitter does the curriculum do what it says it does to improve student knowledge? While testimonials can be helpful, whether positive or negative, these need to be combined with data demonstrating student improvement based on hard evidence.
The ScienceStart! Early Childhood Curriculum provides a year-long set of daily lesson plans that are both coherent and integrated. Coherence means that each day’s lesson builds on the previous one and provides a foundation for the next day. Integrated means that each day’s science topic forms the core concept that is also addressed in art, music, center-based play, fiction and non-fiction read-alouds, and large and small motor activity.
With skillful teachers, age-appropriate science activities excite and engage preschoolers. Feedback from administrators is close to 100% positive and positive feedback from teachers is close to 80%. In positive feedback, teachers say they are surprised by how much their students are capable of learning, their rapid growth in basic and more advanced (tier two) vocabulary, and their ability to discuss ideas with one another and to participate in the basic science cycle. Children are enthusiastic and show the ability to generate new ideas. Teachers who have been challenged by disruptive or disinterested student behaviors note that ScienceStart! engages students most of the time.
ScienceStart! was developed at the University of Rochester over a number of years by Dr. Lucia French, Taylor Professor of Education and Human Development, in collaboration with experienced teachers and doctoral students. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Education, and others. As lesson plans were created, they were used by experienced teachers in Head Start and NYS Universal Preschool classrooms and on the basis of teacher feedback, the lessons were revised – often more than once – to maximize student learning and engagement.
While teachers and administrators have been enthusiastic about the benefits of using the ScienceStart! Curriculum, it is also important to collect data demonstrating effectiveness. Research into student achievement was an integral part of each of the three projects funded by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education.
A number of different research questions were considered across the three funded projects. Here we show evidence of effectiveness from the 2005 final report for a 3-year Early Childhood Educator Professional Development Grant (ECEPD) funded by the US Department of Education. Results for the 4 year Early Reading First Grant were similar.
The Early Childhood Educator Professional Development Project (ECEPD) involved 2,258 children and 98 teachers across 30 programs that included daycares, private and NYS Universal PreK preschools, and federally funded Head Start classrooms.
The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) was used to assess students’ vocabulary skills near the beginning (pre-test) and the end (post-test) of the academic year. The PPVT is the most important assessment for three reasons.
First, the PPVT is a highly reliable measure and is the most widely used means of assessing whether a variety of different interventions are effective with preschoolers. Vocabulary knowledge provides a clear indication of conceptual knowledge.
Second, PPVT scores correlate highly with IQ scores. Although IQ scores are an outdated means of assessing children, the correlation of IQ with PPVT is important because IQ scores were the major indicator used in studies of the effectiveness of Head Start and other early educational programs from the early 1970s through the 1990s.
Third, like IQ tests, scores on the PPVT are adjusted for the child’s age. For example, if you have an IQ of 120 at age 10, you would most likely have a score of approximately 120 at age 20. If at age 20 you could only answer those questions that you answered at age 10, your IQ would no longer be measured as 120. The PPVT is designed in the same way. If children score higher at the end of the school year than at the beginning, this means they have acquired more vocabulary than expected over that time period.
Results were similar for Program Years Two and Three. During Program Year Two, children who were in ScienceStart! classrooms averaged a statistically significant 6 point increase in PPVT scores. Children in classrooms not yet using ScienceStart! Curriculum did not show an increase in scores. Furthermore, ScienceStart! students in high-poverty schools showed a significant increase in scores while children in middle-income schools showed no increase.
Another question that can be addressed by results from the ECEPD project is whether children learned the science concepts/content they were taught. Color Mixing and Shadows were the topics assessed, again using the same measures before and after instruction. Each child listened as an adult read an illustrated story about color mixing, then asked the child to ‘fill in the blank’ as a way of assessing their knowledge of the content. There were no pre-post differences on the easiest questions, which required only that children name a color by ‘reading’ a picture. There were statistically significant improvements on questions that required children to either draw an inference from the illustration or to provide an answer that was not supported by an illustration. There were similar findings for the Shadow assessment. Results from the Early Reading First project had similar results.
The actual reports to the funding agencies presented detailed data and results. For the sake of brevity and readability only the highlights have been covered, which provide solid evidence of the effectiveness of ScienceStart