Research News

UW-Madison's Connolly discusses goals, indicators in monitoring STEM education

April 27, 2018
by Wisconsin Center for Education Research communications

The term STEM, adopted by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1998, has become increasingly familiar throughout the United States due to the thousands of programs launched to produce more science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals.

Mark Connolly
Connolly
But how successful are these programs?

With no national systems in place to answer that question, the NSF asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to develop indicators for monitoring undergraduate STEM education.

Mark Connolly, an associate research scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in UW–Madison’s School of Education, was among the 15 academics who served on the committee tasked with creating the indicators.

“We started by identifying three central STEM educational goals, and then developed 21 indicators to measure progress toward the goals,” says Connolly.

The committee’s report, recently released to the public, describes the three core goals as:

  • improving students’ STEM knowledge through evidence-based teaching;
  • achieving equity, diversity and inclusion among STEM students by expanding opportunities for educational access and success; and
  • increasing completion of STEM credentials to meet the needs of the U.S. workforce.

“The indicators focus on a wide range of factors, such as measuring teaching effectiveness, comparing the diversity among STEM degree holders with those in all fields, and tracking the entry and persistence of students in STEM academic programs,” says Connolly.

He states the committee also concluded that no nationally representative data are available to inform most of the proposed indicators. As a result, the members identified three methods for obtaining the data: 

  • creating a national student unit record data system, which Congress is considering as part of the proposed College Transparency Act;
  • expanding the data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics; and 
  • combining data from nonfederal sources.

“We also concluded that before collecting the data, some of the indicators must be researched further to develop clear definitions and identify measurement methods,” Connolly says.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine invited Connolly to serve on the committee due to his experience as a principal investigator on two five-year studies of postsecondary STEM education, and as an evaluator on STEM faculty development studies. He has worked as a researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research since 2002.