Expanding and Strengthening the STEM Teacher Workforce Through UTeach

Computer science teacher with high school student

The goal of UTeach at the University of Texas at Austin is to increase the numbers of highly qualified STEM teachers in high-needs schools by expanding preparation pathways, and to broaden participation of underrepresented students in high-needs schools through evidence-based professional development and ongoing support of in-service teachers.

AIR is working with UTeach on two studies. In one study, AIR is evaluating the impact of UTeach's Computer Science Principles Advanced Placement professional development and ongoing supports on teacher instructional practice and student academic and nonacademic performance. In the extension study, AIR is helping UTeach understand the associations between using a student engagement dashboard tool in their program and improving Computer Science A (CSA) teachers’ culturally responsive teaching efficacy, student CSA learning engagement, and academic achievement, particularly among historically underrepresented students.

Computer Science Principles Study

A lack of qualified computer science teachers, resources, and support for those teachers are factors that substantially hinder student exposure to high-quality PK–12 CS instruction. One approach to more immediately remedy the lack of formal computer science (CS) preservice training programs is to train existing, interested teachers in the field to teach CS courses. However, existing CS teachers face a shortage of accessible, high-quality professional development (PD) opportunities, curriculum materials, and pedagogical resources to aid in their CS instruction and student assessment.

To address this, the UTeach Institute developed and launched the National Science Foundation-supported UTeach CSP curriculum in 2013. The UTeach curriculum was among the first five AP® CSP curricula and PD programs officially endorsed by the College Board in 2016.

AIR partnered with the UTeach Institute in 2019 to conduct a rigorous evaluation of impact of UTeach PD and ongoing supports on teachers’ AP Computer Science Principles (CSP) instruction and student outcomes. AIR and UTeach recruited schools to participate in a randomized controlled trial in which control schools were assigned to use the UTeach AP CSP curriculum for 1 year and treatment schools receives the curriculum, a 40-hour online PD workshop, and access to online forums and one-to-one support.

In the course of the study, AIR administered beginning- and end-of-year student and teacher surveys, as well as six end-of-unit teacher surveys. AIR also collected student background information and AP test scores from participating schools and conducted interviews with a subset of teachers to better understand their teaching experiences. The preliminary work has revealed several important findings that will guide our work going forward. For example, PD and supports were found to significantly increase teacher confidence and preparedness in successfully implementing the CSP curriculum, while we found few impacts of the PD and supports on student outcomes.

Computer Science A Study

Computer Science A (CSA) is the most advanced computer science class offered by the College Board. Historically, CSA has been taught using traditional instructional formats, and CS outcomes for girls and students of color suggest there is a critical need to improve the way the course engages diverse groups of students. While the numbers of females and students of color taking AP CS courses has increased over the years, there are persistent gaps in participation in the AP CS exams between these groups and their male and white student counterparts.

To address the critical concerns related to the inclusion of girls and students of color in computer science, UTeach began to extend its work beyond increasing the quality of instruction to find effective methods and tools for improving student engagement in CSA courses in 2022.

AIR partnered with the UTeach Institute in 2022 to conduct a pre-post correlational study to understand the role of adding a student engagement dashboard in their program in helping CSA teachers to detect disengagement, especially for historically underrepresented students; improve their culturally responsive teaching; and improving student engagement in CSA and learning outcomes. AIR recruited teachers across the nation to provide teachers with access to student engagement dashboards updated regularly as the results of student end-of-unit engagement surveys.

The study will examine the associations between using the engagement dashboard with multiple outcomes: teacher self-efficacy to engage students and use of instructional strategies to support that goal; student engagement and interest in CSA, particularly among underrepresented students; and student AP exam scores.