The Putnam County School District in Florida was one of the first districts to be featured in our Woz ED Newsletter. This district is distinguished by its community’s commitment to STEM education, consistently striving to enhance opportunities for all students to engage in STEM activities. Putnam County has set a high standard in expanding its programs and pushing the boundaries of educational excellence in a positive and impactful way.
Over the past year, Putnam has been working towards another goal; to collect data in areas such as test scores, attendance, and growth as a way to determine what’s working and what needs more attention within STEM learning. With the help of the PEAR Institute, an educational data collection organization, the district successfully gathered a data group of about 1,300 students and 44 educators. The results are impressive, to say the least.
Putnam has gained distinction in the STEM community as Woz ED’s First Data Verified Pathway District, and they aren’t stopping there. The district plans on going even further into data collection to get more specific, detailed insight into what students and teachers need. In order to reach “Data Verified” Status, pathway partners must meet school or district criteria and then participate in a Pear Institute Study. If the outcomes are positive, they are inducted as Woz ED Data Verified Pathway Schools or Districts
The most recent set of data was collected between December 2022 and February 2023. The two primary surveys were PEAR Institute’s Student and Educator Surveys. There were 1,317 students in grades 4-12 who participated across 11 schools and 44 educators who participated across 8 schools.
Within these surveys students perform a self-analysis of several STEM factors including interest in and knowledge of STEM careers, engagement, enjoyment, and identity. They are then asked a series of questions pertaining to social and emotional development such as critical thinking, determination, and collaboration. These surveys use a four scale response system, making statements and asking students to choose “strongly disagree, disagree, agree, or strongly agree.”
While in the process of collecting data from these PEAR studies, the district decided to look into other indicators that would help them determine the effectiveness of their STEM programming. They compared reading test scores for students who were taking STEM each day at the sixth grade level from the beginning of the year to the end, and math scores for those same students from the time they were in fourth grade to sixth grade. Additionally, Putnam reviewed attendance rates, graduation rates, and discipline referrals across the district.
What They Found
Students reported that they had noticed positive changes within all 10 STEM outcomes, the most significant one being an interest in STEM and 21st-Century careers. While there are often gray areas within datasets, such as lack of relevant information, skipped answers, or not enough responses, the data collected highlights the effects of STEM Education on individual students, teachers, and collective groups of students.
Amongst the sixth graders in the district who participate in STEM classes every day, there was the greatest positive change in each STEM category. In the data observed for math and science scores, the students in sixth grade who are exposed to STEM daily tested 17% better at the end of the year than they had at the beginning in reading and 20% higher in math from the time they were in fourth grade to sixth grade.
Educators reported increases in areas such as “comfort with STEM resources”, interest in materials taught, confidence in skills, and capability to teach STEM concepts. They also reported a perceived increase in student confidence and capabilities within their classrooms.
In relation to graduation rates, attendance, and discipline referrals, the district found that graduation rates and attendance went up and the number of referrals went down between the years 2016 and 2022. Their major push for STEM programming began in the 2015/16 school year. Graduation rates rose from 55% to 90% between 2015 and 2021. These are hugely significant factors to note. Not only are students testing better and feeling more confident in their skill sets, they are engaged with the material and want to show up for class.
Another Handful of Delicious Popcorn
When I talked to Kathleen Schofield, director of STEM2Hub, about Putnam Data, she told me,
“Data is kind of like popcorn. You can’t just have one piece. Once teachers and leaders see this data, they want more. In the future, we hope that more people participate, so that our data can be even more specific.”
Schofield also shared with me that data collection is a slow, often precarious process. First, you must send surveys out to schools, then you must continuously remind people to take said surveys, gather them, send them in, and wait patiently for results. Oftentimes, people don’t fill out surveys, or leave too many answers blank. It’s difficult to convince others of the integral nature of data collection.
With that said, data collection at Putnam has allowed the district to examine which schools are thriving and which ones need additional resources, to get more specific about what each school needs. Schofield used the example of Kelly Middle School in Putnam District. Kelly saw an 85% increase in math scores at the 6th grade level, compared to other middle schools that saw only 20% or less. With this insight, leaders at Putnam can say, “Okay, well here is what Kelly is doing to get these results, maybe we should try that here at this middle school.”
There are many opportunities made possible through data collection, like sharing approaches that have been successful and pinpointing the outliers on both ends of the spectrum. Ultimately, data can be used as proof of the impact of STEM programming at a small Florida school district like Putnam. Other districts can look at this data and see Putnam’s success as a way forward for them, too. With the numbers readily available to present to partner organizations, it is easier to secure grants, justify spending, and create room for more of the good stuff.