Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

W. Grant Willis


Innovation and discovery are important for driving the advancement of human society. As a result, there has been a large growth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) employment opportunities. Science and technology have become a strong prerequisite for successful integration into higher academics and the labor force of the United States. The increase in demand for STEM positions necessitates motivating future workers from schools in kindergarten through 12th grade. A metaphor of a pipeline has been used to describe the retention of students through the completion of an academic program in STEM fields. Several science organizations have created the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to improve Science learning in K-12. However, it is of interest to see how the NGSS are being taught in the field and what impact this may have on students' performance. This study investigated academic achievement differences among fourth and eighth-grade students between schools that are affiliated with a University in New England compared to matched schools that are not. Schools were matched by using ratios of students that receive free and reduced lunch. Testing results from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) for physical science, earth/space science, life science, and inquiry were specifically investigated. A comparison of t-tests examining differences between the schools yielded one significant difference for Inquiry scores on an academic achievement test t(35) = -0.01, p = 0.98, Hedge’s g = 0.003. Specifically, the university-affiliated students performed higher (M=47.2, SD=10.4) in 2015 compared to the students not affiliated (M=42.3, SD=10.2). The other investigated content areas were not significantly different between the university-affiliated schools and the non-affiliated schools. Interestingly, the adoption of NGSS by the university program may explain the differences observed, as the NGSS supports student inquiry skills. Teachers from school sites used in the quantitative analyzed were interviewed for potential differences in areas of support, style of teaching, STEM integration, knowledge of NGSS standards, and attitudes towards creativity. Common practices by other schools not within the network may not be supporting student inquiry skills to the same level. A qualitative review of teachers' familiarity with NGSS through transcribed interviews supported this finding. Future research may follow-up on how these differences affect students' retention further down the pipeline at the high school and college level. It may also be of interest to investigate whether science knowledge or inquiry skills are better predictors of retention for students.