Data Collection Processes
How is information about our program collected?
The Science Program Improvement Review process is highly individualized. More detailed information is available online after registering with NSTA’s SPIR staff, or you may prefer to discuss your questions in person. You’re under no obligation to continue after registration.
NSTA staff members can help you get started by answering questions not covered below or providing access permission for more online resources. Please contact either
Wendy Binder, Program Director, email@example.com
Jan Tuomi, Science Education Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org
SPIR Frequently Asked Questions
Our school district is heavily invested in site-based decision making, will the review work for us?
Every school district is different, and the review concentrates on facts of policy and practice, and on results. So, no matter what the decision-making structure, the review will serve to compile documentation on how the current system is working. It is true that the best practices described in SPIR Standards often point to collaboration at the district level, for example, to provide professional development resources, supply instructional materials, develop a complete curriculum, or evaluate program effectiveness. However, if the collaboration and results are successful at the school level, the review results will document those achievements.
Can a review be conducted for just one school instead of a district?
Yes. In setting up the review, the district-based elements can be de-emphasized.
Are there schools that exemplify the SPIR best practices? We’d like to visit and observe their science program.
As far as we know, perfection across all the standards does not exist. However, the research behind the descriptions of best practice is based on actual experience, not conjectures. Many of the key resources accompanying the standards do include citations of actual practice for elements of best practice that interested parties can follow up on. NSTA staff may be able to identify science programs that have specific best practices in place.
How can a reviewer make valid judgments on teaching and learning based on one observation?
The review process asks the teacher to explain the context of the lesson for the reviewers’ benefit and assumes that the reviewer has more than sufficient knowledge to make some judgments about appropriate pedagogy, science content, and the working relationship between teacher and students. Nevertheless, as all teachers know, one lesson never offers a teacher sufficient opportunities to showcase their entire repertoire of skills, a fact of which the reviewers are well aware. The conclusions of the final report also take into account data found through the other eight processes.
How much staff time does the SPIR review take?
Spending time wisely to get sufficient information is a high-priority concern for SPIR. Estimations of time for each step are included in the Timeline table and are available from NSTA staff. The review process does not require any special reports to be done, and where data is not available, it does not have to be produced for the review. The fact that information is not available or not known is simply something to consider as part of possible future improvements.
The most time spent on any one element is at the district leadership level, where it is assumed that such work will be a contribution to getting essential, valuable work done. The District Leadership Session is a one-day session and requires advance preparation among the participants.
I have to admit that the idea of having our problems and possible failures exposed makes me uncomfortable. There are lots of reasons why we are where we are, and I don’t want to be blamed.
A SPIR review should be approached by those interested in making the best possible plans for future improvements. To do so, you need to have a clear picture of where you are. A picture painted by outside experts will not be colored by politics, ego, or the fears of which you speak, and will therefore be more factual and clearer. The leadership team may need to employ stricter norms for working together, such as respecting the confidential nature of your team discussions, prizing and honoring honesty with the aim of program improvements and student benefits, and structuring conversations so that all members have an equal voice. NSTA staff and facilitators can help identify resources for setting group norms.
Many science programs have been resource-poor while the spotlight has been on improving results in the reading and mathematics programs. In our experience, we have found that the review report can be an extremely valuable tool in marshalling the support and resources needed to do the best possible job of developing an exemplary science program.
Our science program is already good; would the review be a waste of resources for us?
Maybe, but most administrators have puzzling situations where some things they did apparently didn’t work, or have pockets of problems in particular schools or among specific groups of students. The review can help address some of these questions, and the sample of schools and those surveyed can be selected to answer more specific rather than general questions. (The content of the review instruments can’t be changed, but the emphasis and process can be tailored.)
The best practices described in the SPIR standards assume all students have access to the full curriculum and teachers are prepared to teach content in a manner that enables all to succeed. Many traditionally good science programs are being challenged to meet these new requirements of standards-based education. Participation in the review can reveal where practices and policies may need to change and be proactively acted upon. NSTA believes in continuous improvement for districts to move their k-12 programs toward excellence.