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As of September 30, 2012, this website will no longer be updated until the National Science Foundation funds a Resource Center under the 2012 ITEST program solicitation; please feel free to continue to use the valuable resources. If you have any questions about the program, contact the National Science Foundation by email at DRLITEST@nsf.gov or by phone at (703) 292-8628.

Meet the ITEST LRC Staff

What is the National Science Foundation ITEST Program?

The ITEST program (program solicitation) responds to current concerns and projections about the growing demand for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communications technology (ICT) professionals in the U.S. and seeks solutions to help ensure the breadth and depth of the STEM and ICT workforce. ITEST supports the development, implementation, evaluation, and scale-up of implementation models. It also supports robust research studies to address questions that point to solutions for building a strong, competent STEM workforce. A variety of possible approaches to supporting the future STEM and ICT workforce and to building students' capacity to participate in that important workforce may be implemented and studied. ITEST projects must include students and may include teachers. The target audience is kindergarten through high school age, and projects may focus on any NSF supported content area related to the STEM and ICT workforce.

Program Description

The ITEST program is funded by H-1B visa revenues in direct response to the need to ensure a high-quality future STEM and ICT workforce that can meet U.S. technology needs. The goals of the ITEST program are as follows:

  • To develop, implement, study, and evaluate interventions that encourage K-12 students to develop interest in and to be prepared for careers in the STEM and ICT workforce of the future.
  • To produce research findings that build knowledge about approaches, models, and interventions involving K-12-aged children and teachers that are most likely to increase the nation's capacity and innovation in the STEM and ICT workforce of the future.
  • To equip teachers with the resources to ensure that their students consider choosing and are prepared to enter the STEM and ICT workforce of the future.

For the purposes of this program, the "STEM and ICT workforce of the future" is defined broadly to include scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. The STEM workforce of the future is likely to require knowledge and experience with ICT, especially in fields such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and computational biology (NRC, 2006). Therefore, ITEST proposals may focus on any STEM or ICT-intensive content area supported by NSF, provided the project addresses specific needs of K-12-aged students or teachers preparing for the future U.S. workforce. NSF is especially interested in supporting investigators to identify established or emerging STEM or ICT areas of focus and create new strategies, scale-ups, or research projects within those areas that may yield further development of innovation or capacity within the STEM workforce of the future. In addition to technical and STEM content, projects may also provide the opportunity for students to learn and practice essential skills (e.g., conflict management, leadership, knowledge of workplace ethics, negotiation, or self-direction) (http://www.p21.org).

The ITEST program is aligned with the recommendations of recent reports, including Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the National Science Board's (NSB) report entitled Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing Our Nation's Human Capital, The U.S. Department of Education's National Education Technology Plan 2010, Transforming American Education: Learning, Powered by Technology, and the National Research Council's (NRC) report entitled Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America's Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads (2010) and others (please see references). The ability of the Nation to meet the demand for individuals with the knowledge, skills, curiosity, and creativity necessary to enter the STEM workforce and ICT-intensive careers is hindered by the limited involvement of segments of the population that are severely underrepresented in STEM and ICT occupations. The demand for skilled, knowledgeable professionals can be met only if the STEM and ICT workforce is broad and diverse, and taps the potential of all students able to pursue careers in STEM and ICT fields.

NSF is especially interested in projects that focus on students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM and ICT-intensive careers (including but not limited to those residing in rural and economically disadvantaged communities), elementary student audiences, and innovative ways to connect mathematical reasoning with STEM and ICT career readiness.

ITEST invests in four types of projects: Strategies, Research, Scale-up, and Resource Center projects which are described below.

ITEST Strategies projects
The goal of ITEST Strategies projects is to design, implement, and evaluate interventions that support K-12 students' engagement in authentic, relevant experiences that reflect the skills, knowledge, and practices represented in the STEM and ICT workforce and motivate students to pursue STEM and ICT career trajectories. ITEST strategies may also devise ways to equip teachers with the appropriate resources to ensure that their students consider and are prepared for choosing to enter the STEM and ICT workforce of the future. Every strategies project is regarded as a learning laboratory in the sense that other STEM educators should be able to gain knowledge provided by the project to inform other, future activities. Projects should describe the plans for a robust, objective evaluation, including outlining the questions and instruments being used to assess "how" and "why" the project did or did not meet the intended goals and objectives. Projects should be sure that the evaluation includes evidence of the ways in which the elements of the strategy have been implemented and achieved. NSF is particularly interested in building the capacity of the ITEST program to demonstrate projects' impact on students' pursuit of STEM and ICT career trajectories by supporting the development of mechanisms for longitudinal tracking of students.

In an effort to identify and grow our nation's STEM and ICT human capital, ITEST encourages projects to consider incorporating strategies that cultivate innovative and creative thinking among student participants. This may involve the use of various technologies and resources to increase exposure to open-ended, real-world problem solving, hands-on training, and interactions with practicing scientists, engineers and other experts. Principles of entrepreneurship (e.g. identifying and/or creating a need, communicating ideas, predictive analysis, etc.) may also be included in the overall project format while providing opportunities for students and teachers to design, make, and test their ideas. Example activities may include, but are not limited to, tinkering/making, rapid prototyping and digital fabrication, and/or modeling (e.g. programming, designing simulations/visualizations).

Strategies projects must make strong connections to one or more of the following questions:

  • What coherent set of experiences best support student development (e.g. knowledge, skills, dispositions) for productive participation in the STEM and ICT workforce of the future?
  • How can we more effectively prepare teachers to utilize and integrate technology into their STEM curricula to enhance student understanding of STEM and ICT careers?
  • How can the burgeoning cyber-infrastructure be harnessed as a tool for STEM and ICT learning in classrooms and informal learning environments? Examples of cyber-infrastructure include (but are not limited to) tools for social networking, bridging formal and informal learning environments, expanding professional learning communities, innovative uses of mobile technology in and out of classroom settings, and /or connecting students to STEM-related datasets.
  • What strategies can parents and caregivers adopt in the modern digital and computer age that develop student understanding of and appreciation for the scientific, mathematical, and engineering basis of technological developments?
  • What strategies best engage principals, guidance counselors, and other school administrators to promote students' and teachers' adoption and effective use of technologies that support STEM and ICT learning and career awareness?

Projects that cross multiple grade levels and align with district and individual school professional development plans are encouraged. Investigators are encouraged to create partnerships with (1) K-12 schools, colleges (two or four year), universities, informal science education organizations, government laboratories, and /or community-based organizations to address the needs of the target audiences as appropriate; (2) industry to support career awareness and cultivate interest among student participants. These partnerships can provide opportunities for career exploration and mentoring, interactions with technology and STEM professionals, and workplace applications of technology skills.

ITEST Research projects
The goal of ITEST Research projects is to produce empirical findings and research tools that contribute to knowledge about which approaches, models, and interventions with K-12 students and teachers are most likely to increase capacity in the STEM and ICT-intensive workforce of the future.

Effective strategies must be developed and studied for engaging American youth of the 21st century in ICT and STEM learning in a manner that leads them to pursue career trajectories that focus on technology-intensive STEM fields. Research in this area has the potential to transform policy and education in STEM. To that end, the ITEST program is seeking projects that bring together researchers in STEM education (qualitative and/or quantitative), career development, psychology, sociology, anthropology, STEM disciplines, and other critical areas that heavily invest in STEM and ICT careers. Projects in this category are guided by the following questions:

  • What educational activities would increase the nation's capacity to participate in transformative, innovative discoveries in STEM?
  • How can we reliably and validly measure and/or predict interests, attitudes, or motivation to participate in STEM or ICT-intensive careers?
  • How can we validly measure and rigorously study the impact of various models to encourage participation in STEM or ICT-intensive careers?
  • What is the influence or impact of K-12 student participation in activities outside of the formal school setting (e.g. robotics competitions or at nature centers) on students choosing STEM or ICT intensive careers?
  • How can we reliably and validly measure student engagement over time as a result of a coherent set of experiences using technology?

These general questions signal areas where ITEST will support systematic, rigorous studies to enlarge and make more substantive the knowledge base upon which efforts to improve and expand the STEM and ICT-intensive workforce can build. ITEST encourages (1) well-crafted and rigorous research studies to examine the effectiveness of currently active or previously developed interventions and strategies for STEM and ICT workforce growth are strongly encouraged; (2) longitudinal or retrospective studies that range from analysis of individual ITEST projects to a more comprehensive analysis of the ITEST portfolio as a whole. This may also involve structuring the integration of student longitudinal data from K-12 district and state databases with data from higher educational and/or workplace databases.

The ITEST program is also interested in developing a greater understanding of the conditions that are necessary to support the diffusion and scaling of ITEST projects by examining how different strategies are implemented, institutionalized and sustained with the aim of understanding the organizational elements necessary for implementing the innovation successfully. Research questions for such studies might focus on implementation factors such as: (1) school or district financial investments, leadership, and organizational practices; (2) feasibility and fidelity of classroom implementation; (3) teacher professional development in support of the innovation; (4) engagement of teachers, administrators, and community representatives in adoption and implementation decisions; and/or (5) policy issues such as the innovation's alignment with state standards or assessments. Studies of the implementation and scale-up process might employ qualitative, quantitative, or mixed research methods to document, analyze, and interpret relationships between critical implementation factors and outcomes.

ITEST Research projects should contribute to the knowledge base regarding these research problems; while each project may involve evaluation of a particular intervention or strategy, the likely project outcomes should address the underlying research problem and be broadly informative for the field.

ITEST Scale-up projects
The goal of ITEST Scale-up projects is to apply strategies to enhance student or teacher knowledge of, or disposition toward, STEM and ICT careers that have evidence of effectiveness under routine conditions to a broader audience for the purpose of learning effective steps in expanding the adoption of successful innovations in school and out-of-school settings. Scale-up projects can include expanding existing designs, implementations, and tests of research and theory-based models or models based in best practice and professional expertise, to engage, motivate, and prepare students to be participants in the STEM and ICT workforce of the future.

Any scale-up proposal must directly impact K-12-aged students or teachers of K-12 students and must involve a partnership among different types of institutions. Projects in this category are guided by the following questions

  • What innovative strategies that have strong and rigorous evidence of effectiveness for supporting K-12 students' development for productive participation in the STEM and ICT workforce of the future are also efficacious across a wider range of settings?
  • What are the conditions under which strategies or innovations that are effective in some settings can be expanded to new settings to increase the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students need in order to participate productively in the changing workforce in STEM and ICT workforce?
  • How can innovations be expanded to cover additional scope within STEM and ICT workforce preparation?

Projects should clearly describe (1) the program, model, strategy, or intervention that will be scaled-up and explain the nature of the scale-up (e.g., size of affected population, variety of contexts). The proposal should provide evidence of the effectiveness of the project from previous research or evaluation to make an argument for why the project is ready for scale-up. Empirical evidence of the viability of the scale-up should also be included; (2) the plan for implementing the scaled-up version, including the study goals and, population, the participants and any planned adaptations of the earlier model. Key elements of the study, design, and implementation should be described including data quality and collection protocols and analysis methodologies. One clear outcome of the scale-up study should be reliable estimates of the average impact of the intervention. Plans for scale-up studies should also include mechanisms for determining the extent to which the implementation in the wider settings have varied from the original program model, strategy or intervention; (3) the evidentiary base that will be established to demonstrate, through rigorous, well-controlled, large-scale empirical studies, the impact of the proposed strategy or intervention on practice or student outcomes. To the extent possible, scale-up studies should estimate impacts for sample subgroups as appropriately defined by the setting, population group, or cohort.

ITEST Resource Center
Provides technical support for all ITEST projects and have responsibility for national dissemination of program models, materials, and best practices. The Resource Center should be organized in the following way:

  • Lead Institution. It is anticipated that the lead institution for the ITEST Resource Center will be a service-oriented educational organization or institution with demonstrated capacity to plan, develop, and manage a national center that provides technical support for a diverse portfolio of ITEST projects across the United States. It should have known expertise targeting STEM and ICT-related disciplines, formal and informal science education, and/or teacher professional development. Finally, it is expected that the lead institution will have known expertise dealing with issues around capacity building, broadening participation, and/or career development.
  • Technical Support. The Resource Center is expected to monitor ITEST projects in the various stages of implementation. This may include, but is not limited to, facilitating communities of practice and identifying best practices and resources (including print and electronic) that may augment or enhance projects in meeting their goals. In addition, the Resource Center is expected to support discussions, provide supporting materials to projects, and disseminate ideas and materials from the projects to the field.
  • Dissemination. The primary responsibility for the dissemination of project findings to the field rests with the Resource Center. In addition to submitting a comprehensive report to NSF, the Center should include a plan for dissemination of findings to both formal and informal science education professionals, industry and policy stakeholders, and the STEM education research community.
  • Outreach. The Resource Center is expected to outreach to areas and institutions (community colleges, school districts, informal science institutions, minority serving institutions (MSIs), etc.) not represented in the ITEST portfolio.

  • View a short video about the program.