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Investing in the Improvement of Elementary Science in Washington State:
Findings and Implications from a Study of K-5 Teachers Striving to Strengthen their Science Teaching


Becky Carroll, Pam Castori, Laura Stokes. With assistance from Judy Hirabayashi, Laurie Lopez, Heather Mitchell, Mary Regan, Inverness Research Inc.


The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP) commissioned Inverness Research to conduct a study that could support and inform ongoing strengthening of K-5 science teaching and learning in Washington State. The study focuses on the experiences and perspectives of K-5 teachers who were selected because they are generally committed to excellence in teaching or are working specifically to strengthen their science instruction in Washington. Using survey results, interviews, and vignettes of individuals, the study illuminates teachers' motivations, the types of professional development they seek, their trajectories of improvement in teaching science, and their workplace contexts. The study also offers a general portrayal of the current status of K-5 science across the state. Participants represent 67 different districts, or nearly one in four, across Washington.

Key findings

Washington state appears to have built a quite broad foundation of quality science curriculum and basic training for K-5 science.  K-5 teachers—who rarely have science backgrounds—need this foundation to develop confidence to start teaching hands-on, inquiry-based science.

Improvement of science teaching currently relies on individual teacher motivation and experiences of success with students.   This improvement takes place in the absence of clear state and district priority for the importance of science.

Teachers strengthen their science teaching over many years, drawing from a variety of resources that build their content knowledge and skills for teaching inquiry.  They also need ongoing opportunities to work with colleagues in their schools, opportunities which are currently quite rare.

Suggested policy actions to strengthen K-5 science teaching

  • Sustain investment in high-quality curriculum and related training
  • Raise and clarify the priority of science
  • Invest in teacher development: a) increase teacher knowledge of science and teaching science, b) support teacher change in their workplaces, and c) develop teacher leadership for science improvement

Intended Audience

Policy Makers, Reform Leaders, Education Administrators, Teachers, and general public.


Any and all errors are claimed by the authors of this document, Inverness Research, Inc.

Date published

February 2009

Distribution Policy

Inverness Research Inc. grants permission to print and distribute copies.

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Full report by Inverness Research (includes Executive Summary) (pp. 55)

Executive Summary (stand-alone) (pp. 4)

Brief prepared by the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (pp. 4)



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