News: Featured Stories

Lisa Gonsalves (left) and Hannah Sevian (right) review a classroom snapshot video. Image by: Colleen Locke
March 3, 2018

UMass Boston faculty receive $1.1 million NSF grant to study effectiveness of STEM assessment practices


  • Boston

Professor of Chemistry Hannah Sevian and Chair and Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Gonsalves are the recipients of a five-year, $1.1 million National Science Foundation grant that begins today.

“Assessment Practices of STEM Teachers” is a research study funded by the Noyce Program, which aims to support K-12 STEM teachers in high-need districts.

“Assessment practices are teaching while learning, in a sense,” Gonsalves said. “So the teacher’s teaching and the kids might have to do something, and the teacher, by looking at what the kids did, by hearing what they’re saying, can assess for her or himself, ‘Have they learned what I taught them, and what do they actually know?’”

Sevian and Gonsalves will be studying the assessment practices of 87 teachers, 58 of whom have previously participated in one of Gonsalves’s other Noyce projects. Both Sevian and Gonsalves have been working with urban teachers for a long time; Sevian has done research on in-service teacher assessment practices, and Gonsalves has prepared UMass Boston students to teach in urban schools.

“We can really contribute something to understanding STEM teacher effectiveness through the lens of assessment practices,” Sevian said.

“Schools are moving slowly toward more authentic assessments, especially in STEM. Standardized testing is still an important piece, but there’s a bigger move to looking at what kids are understanding,” Gonsalves said. “Can they do something with this assessment other than memorize? Is it project-based? A lot of it is teachers being able to assess kids in conversation, or if kids are working in groups, how can teachers assess their conversation, what they’re saying to each other, what they’ve done, to know that they understand the content that the teacher is teaching, so it moves beyond the actual test.”

Sevian and Gonsalves will be looking at four major streams of data. They’ll be collecting assessment portfolios that contain unit plans and student work; two classroom snapshot videos that show a task from start to finish, filmed on a phone camera strapped to a harness on the teacher; interviews with teachers about how they negotiate dilemmas; and standardized test results.

UMass Boston graduate students and post-doctoral researchers will be asking participating teachers about their current assessment practices, the changes they’ve made in their practices, the challenges they’ve faced in changing practices, and student outcomes.

“It’s all about kids learning or not,” Gonsalves said.

Sevian and Gonsalves say the results of this research study could have implications for teacher preparation beyond just Boston.

“My approach to this has always been to look at what our excellent teachers are doing well. Because we have so many excellent teachers in Boston, if we can help to share that, I think that it is a way that we can help improve STEM education in the U.S. as well as other places,” Sevian said.

“We have to improve STEM education in this country. We have to get more urban kids interested in going into STEM careers, and it really all stems from what they’re learning in the classroom,” Gonsalves said.