STEM Educators' Preparedness for English Language Learners in the United States

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Virginia Tech

In the United States STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is increasingly being promoted as a key component of preparing students for the reality of an increasingly technology infused society and workforce. As the population of students classified as English Language Learners (ELLs) continues to grow across the United States the need for STEM educators to be prepared to effectively educate these students is of increasing concern. The task of preparing this group of learners to succeed in a STEM-infused society is a joint effort between specialized linguistic courses in the K-12 education system as well as the STEM educators outside of these specialized courses. As such, focus on creating policy and preparation models for STEM teachers to acquire the necessary skills to effectively serve the ELL population needs to be rooted in targeted analysis of the connections between STEM educators and ELLs.

This dissertation is comprised of two exploratory research studies that examine STEM teachers' preparedness to educate ELLs using secondary analysis of the 2007-2008 and 2011-2012 School and Staffing Survey Teacher Questionnaire (SASS TQ) datasets. The first study focuses on national and regional analysis of how STEM teachers' degrees, state-level certification areas, and professional development participation reflect potential indicators of preparedness to educate ELLs. Concurrently, this study examines ELL participation in STEM courses nationally and regionally through the percentage of STEM teachers who had ELLs in their overall service loads of students as well as the average number of ELLs in those service loads. Quantitative analysis showed drastic differences between regions as well as differences in ELL participation and teacher credentialing between the STEM disciplines. The second study utilizes both the 2007-2008 and 2011-2012 SASS TQ datasets to make comparisons in STEM educators credentialing and ELL participation in STEM courses over the four year time span between the datasets. National analysis of ELL participation in STEM courses showed that in all of the STEM disciplines the percentage of teachers who had ELLs in their total service loads of students increased. The growth of ELL participation differed across disciplines and across regions, however, nationally by 2012 over half of all STEM educators reported having ELLs in their service loads of students. Despite the growing participation of ELLs in STEM courses, the rates of STEM teachers' participation in ELL specific professional development activities largely stagnated over the four year span. The findings of these studies provide valuable information to frame discussions of STEM teachers'preparedness to meet the needs of a growing population of ELLs.

STEM Education, School and Staffing Survey Teacher Questionnaire, English Language Learners