The State of Middle School and High School Science Labs in the Kansas City Region

This report shares the findings of an audit conducted across thirty school districts in which the state of science labs was assessed. The audit was conducted by SuccessLink, with funding of the project from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. This study was conducted as part of the Kauffman Foundation's multi-year agenda to improve student achievement in mathematics, science, and technology subjects in the Greater Kansas City region.

Executive Summary

This 2007 report shares the findings of an audit conducted across thirty school districts in which the state of science labs was assessed. The audit was conducted by SuccessLink, with funding of the project from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. This study was conducted as part of the Kauffman Foundation's multi-year agenda to improve student achievement in mathematics, science, and technology subjects in the Greater Kansas City region.

Auditors visited 170 school buildings in thirty school districts over a five-month period during the 2006-2007 school year. They recorded observations on safety issues, science lab facilities, and equipment and materials. Auditors also conducted teacher interviews and provided online surveys to teachers and administrators in order to assess aspects of instruction, learning, and district policies. This data was then compared to standards set by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). The results indicate that science labs in the Kansas City region do not meet national standards and that much work needs to be done to bring the school science labs up to the national standards.

Findings

The audit identified five areas of concern and this report summarizes each area and makes recommendations for improvement. The five areas are: Safety, Facilities, Equipment and Materials, Instruction and Learning, and District Policies.

Conclusion 1:

The majority of science labs in the Kansas City region do not meet NSTA safety standards.

In order to provide a safe learning environment for students, every science lab must contain basic safety equipment. During this study, auditors found missing safety equipment in more than half of the science labs.

Guidelines published in National Science Teachers Association. NSTA Guide to School Science Facilities. Biehle, James, Motz, Lamoine, and Sandra West. NSTA Press, 1999.

Conclusion 2:

The majority of science labs are too small, lack sufficient storage space, and are not set up in a way that effectively promotes student learning.

More than half of labs in the Kansas City region do not have enough space to facilitate effective student learning. Labs are not currently arranged in a way that meets NSTA recommendations (see Appendix B). Short of renovations, improvements can be made by rearranging the design of labs and reducing the number of students in each science lab class. Auditors also determined that science lab storage rooms are frequently cluttered, disorganized, and dusty.

Conclusion 3:

Science lab equipment and materials are not used effectively or safely in many science lab classrooms.

Auditors frequently discovered old, broken, and unused equipment in many of the observed science labs. In many cases, brand new equipment had never been opened and outdated equipment was still in use.

Conclusion 4:

Many teachers lead science lab classes that are larger than the recommended class size. Compounding this challenge, many teachers are not comfortable using lab equipment or knowledgeable about how to integrate lab activities with the science curriculum.

The recommended science lab class size is twenty-four, yet a lab size of twenty-six was the average for labs in this study.

The NSTA recommends approximately ninety minutes for science lab learning per week. The majority of students in this study received less than one hour of science lab instruction each week.
  • This audit found that collaboration is common between science teachers, and district professional development rarely addresses science labs.
  • The science curriculum studied during this audit shows that science labs are rarely incorporated into the overall science curriculum. However, most teachers report that they do embed science labs in their class plans even though they are not required to do so by the district.

Conclusion 5:

School districts do not provide guidelines to science teachers on how to best use the science lab.

District policies are not in place that guide building administrators and science teachers in the areas of safety, facilities, equipment, and instruction. Moreover, survey data showed a wide discrepancy between how teachers and administrators perceive district policies. Most teachers assume that there is a written vision regarding the role of science labs. In most cases, district administrators reported that this is not the case. Few teachers believed that there were district expectations about lab use, whereas most administrators claimed that there were.

Summary

This report presents significant findings and recommends critical improvements to the quality and safety of science laboratories. In addition to implementing these recommendations, school districts must make the science laboratory experience of students a priority so that science labs are used to enhance student learning. As this audit demonstrates, schools in the Kansas City region can improve the quality of student science lab experiences while ensuring student safety. In doing so, students will better understand scientific concepts through enriching laboratory activities.