Good News from Alabama

February 23, 2012

If you ever wondered whether concerted action in a state could move the needle on education, have a look at Alabama.

A new study of the state’s Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) finds that it has borne at least some fruit. AMSTI, which is in about 40 percent of the state's schools, aims to promote "hands-on, inquiry based" teaching. Teachers in AMSTI schools get professional development, teaching materials, access to technology and other supports to help them adopt new instructional practices.

Students in AMSTI schools surpassed their peers by two percentage points more on the SAT-10 math test. That might not sound like all that much, but the study’s authors note that it amounts to 28 extra days of student progress. What’s more, they (cautiously) suggest that, in two years, students would gain 4 points, or 50 days of added progress. They also found significant gains in students' reading scores. (Reading, you ask? AMSTI incorporates reading and writing into its modules.)

AMSTI isn't, of course, a home run. Gains in science were not statistically significant, and Alabama's students need more than a 2-point boost every year to compete with high-flyers in other countries.

Still, the AMSTI study should lift our spirits. We’re all too used to wearying news about programs that seem so promising but don’t deliver anything in the end. AMSTI shows that, by lining up their supports for teachers, states can get things moving in the right direction.

Hat tip: Erik Robelen.

Tags: STEM & the states