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What are important contextual factors and characteristics of the program to consider when planning an evaluation?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

Reflections by the STEM teacher leader community on opportunities and gaps in STEM teacher leader development efforts


STEM teacher leaders and the programs that train and support them don’t operate in a vacuum—and neither should evaluation. When planning an evaluation, programs will want to consider two things:

Contextual factors

STEM teacher leader programs operate within multiple levels of the education system. This context affects how programs are implemented and how they achieve their outcomes, and has the potential to serve either as supports or barriers to a program achieving its goals. Without capturing information about the context within which the program operates, it will be challenging to interpret the meaning and implications of evaluation results.

In the case of STEM teacher leadership specifically, programs identified the support provided to teacher leaders—through policies or school leaders—as key contextual factors in program evaluation.

Examples of state and district context influencing program implementation include:

  • Are state education leaders supporting the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards? To what degree do state standards define the curriculum of the STEM teacher leader program?
  • What is the state and district context for attracting, hiring, and retaining well-qualified teachers in STEM fields? Where and how to STEM teacher leader programs fit in?

Examples of school context influencing teacher leaders include:

  • Is the principal supportive of an expanded leadership role for STEM teacher leader program participants, allowing them to try out their leadership skills and time to change their role in the school setting?
  • Are STEM teacher leaders provided time in the school day schedule to be out of their classrooms and provide leadership with other teachers in their school or district?

There are multiple ways to handle contextual variables in an evaluation. They can be simply described and discussed. Or they can incorporated into the statistical analysis to see if they are related to the outcomes (e.g., did schools in which administrators supported teacher leaders see greater gains in student achievement in STEM compared to schools where the administrator was not a source of support?).