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The Challenges of Producing Evidence-Based Claims: An Exploratory Study of NSF's Math and Science Partnership


"This paper describes the analysis of the National Science Foundation
(NSF) Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program's January 2008
Learning Network Conference (LNC). This study focuses on the
methodologies used by the MSP community to generate evidence and
seeks to understand topics of interest to the 320 LNC participants.
The data set for this study included the 47 abstracts accepted for
presentation, 68 interviews conducted during the conference,
observations of all 26 breakout sessions, and 98 "think pieces"
written by conference attendees. The analytic procedures included a
holistic scoring rubric for the abstracts and inductive analyses of
the interview, observation, and think-piece data using a structured
approach to grounded theory. Findings included enthusiasm for the
conference theme, respondent focus on realistic and field-tested ways
to generate evidence instead of theory and implementation reports,
and a strong assumption that student learning outcomes are the type
of outcome data of primary interest to the NSF. The study also
identified factors that influence the MSP community's approach to
evaluation. Overall, the study is framed by observed patterns in how
principal investigators (PIs) and their teams responded to project
evaluation requirements. Some PIs experienced a dilemma as to whether
their dominant operational approach should be discovery--as for
science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research
projects--or delivery of pre-specified outcomes. Other PIs and
project leaders were slow to start the evaluation and were impressed
by the complexity of producing sound evaluation findings."