Exploratorium Science: The numbers are in
El Verano second-grader Yuliana Lopez-Casillas experiments with magnets. No textbooks are involved. The students learn by doing.
Early results are in on the Exploratorium Science Program, and the news is encouraging. Student scores are improving in both science and language development, which is exactly the goal of the program.
Exploratorium Science started four years ago as a pilot project at El Verano School and is now underway at five local elementary schools: El Verano, Sassarini, Prestwood, Dunbar and Flowery. A total of 59 teachers have now been trained through the Exploratorium’s summer training institute. Currently, kindergarten through fifth-grade students engage in two or three lengthy inquiry-based science units during the school year. Both teachers and parents are enthusiastic about the program, and the statistics back them up.
The formal evaluation of students takes place through two main tests: the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), which is administered each fall; and the California Standards Test (CST) in science, which is given to fifth and eighth graders only.
El Verano’s CELDT scale scores for the last four years show a steady increase ranging from 20 percent to 39 percent in English language development for students in grades one through five. The improvement coincides directly with use of the Exploratorium Science Project.
For science, the number of EL Verano fifth-graders performing in the ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ range on the California Standards Test increased from 37 percent in 2007-08 to 59 percent in 2010-11, a 22 percent jump. Test results will be available for students at all schools using Exploratorium Science next year.
Prior to the Exploratorium project, science was pushed to a low priority in many elementary schools because of the pressure to improve test scores in English and math under the ‘No Child Left Behind’ program. Alarmed by this trend, the Exploratorium teamed up with the Sonoma Valley Unified School District to solve two problems at once: more science plus acceleration of English language learning. They recognized that science is actually like a second language for all students. The program was championed by Les Vadasz, who offered seed funding and then partnered with the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation to continue the program. The school district then sought and won a federal grant to further expand the program for the entire school district. Matching local funding was key for that grant.
This kind of program, which directly affects student achievement, is a perfect example of why community support for our local public schools is crucial. Without private funding, there would be no Exploratorium Science. We are all pleased to see scores improve, but there is a lot more work to do. We need to make sure these young student scientists continue to advance through middle school and then arrive at high school ready for challenging college prep science classes.
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Laura Zimmerman is executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Maite Iturri is principal of El Verano School.