National Science Foundation
Disseminating Tools to Measure the Content Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics and Science

Three research and development projects funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program are developing instruments to assess growth in the mathematics or science knowledge necessary for teaching, especially in the context of teacher professional development. Without such assessments, professional development providers typically resort to measures in which they have much less confidence, often a project-created assessment or teacher self-report. By using the new instruments, validated on a national scale with strong attention to psychometric properties, it is expected that professional developers and their evaluators will better learn how to improve teachers' mathematical and science knowledge for teaching.

For example, Assessing Teacher Learning About Science Teaching (ATLAST) is developing instruments that measure change in the knowledge needed by middle school teachers to teach three topics of science: force and motion, plate tectonics, and flow of matter and energy. ATLAST provides assessment materials, scoring, and reporting as part of its technical assistance. Thirteen projects currently use one or more of the ATLAST teacher assessments to gauge impacts of their professional development activities. Ten of the projects are Math and Science Partnerships, funded either by NSF or by the U.S. Department of Education through its block grants to the states. At this time, most projects are using the assessments in a pre-test/post-test, treatment-group-only design and analysis that consists of a comparison of pre- and post-test mean and calculation of effect size. One project, however, was able to do a comparison study with a group of peer, volunteer teachers. In this quasi-experimental design, both groups take the pre- and post-test. The analysis will compare post-test scores of the two groups, controlling for their pre-test scores.

Misconception Oriented Standards-based Assessment Resource for Teachers (MOSART) has developed science content instruments based on the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards and on the research literature on students' science misconceptions. The assessments focus on K-12 physical science and earth science and were originally designed for evaluation of NSF-funded MSP professional development programs' impact on participating teachers and their students. To more broadly disseminate its work, MOSART developed a free, open Web site ( that provides versions of its tests to any interested party, including an online tutorial that explains how the tests were developed and their intended uses. MOSART has recently begun to share its expertise with some of the MSPs funded by the U.S. Department of Education through the states. For example, MOSART directly supports the entire Georgia effort, following a wide ranging search by the Georgia Department of Education’s MSP Program for instruments to measure the efficacy of professional development, with respect to science content. Since October 2006, all new proposals to the Georgia MSP Program that involve physical science and earth science are required to show how they will use MOSART instruments in the assessment of their professional development.   

The Design, Validation and Dissemination of Measures of Content Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics project began its work by designing assessment items for the teaching of mathematics in upper elementary schools. Over the past year, the project has continued to develop and disseminate measures -- there are now approximately 300 items across the content areas of number, operations, pre-algebra and algebra, and geometry. As the work has expanded more significantly into middle school mathematics, it has become clear that teachers need to pay attention not only to the mathematical accuracy of definitions, but also to which definitions are age-appropriate for middle-grade students. Many textbooks, resources and professional development courses offer definitions that are either too technically complex, on the one hand, or leave out key elements in an attempt to make definitions accessible to students. Teachers may select from existing definitions or develop their own, but all face the task of balancing mathematical accuracy with comprehensibility to students. Increasing the item pool has also resulted in new and/or better assessments with which users can evaluate professional development or answer research questions. To date, the project has disseminated these measures to approximately eighty projects, including 10 NSF MSPs and numerous U.S. Department of Education MSPs. 

  Web Policies and Important Links | Privacy | FOIA | Help | Contact NSF | Contact Web Master | SiteMap