OSI Incubator Contributes to Success in STEM

Siena College's Urban Scholars Program provides elementary and middle school students in the Albany, New York school district educational opportunities within Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) related fields through active, hands-on workshops. Participants work closely with Siena student-mentors, in small groups, that encourage critical thinking, teamwork, and persistence to never give up if something seems too hard.  In 2015 Siena's Urban Scholars adopted the FLOSS Desktops for Kids program, and combined with other activities, has led to astonishing student outcomes: increased interest, and greater success, in STEM courses.

Dr. Michele McColgan and Dr. Robert Colesante of Siena College have released a report on the program and its success, finding:

  1. middle school students that have participated in Urban Scholars have greater pass rates in middle school math and English language arts assessments.
  2. Urban Scholars' students passed New York State Regents Exams at a higher rate (68%) than non-participants (51%),
  3. those completing the program are more than twice as likely to not only continue on in STEM related courses, but also take advanced courses (i.e. AP courses),
  4. participants have higher graduation rates than non-participants for the two years in which data is available (2016-2017).

Congratulations to Drs. McColgan and Colesante, Siena College and of course the Urban Scholars themselves for their great success. The entire report is below.

Urban Scholars Program for the Albany School District - Outcomes from 2013-2017

I. Program Participants

The Siena College Urban Scholars Program (USP) has operated in conjunction with the Albany school district since 2003. It has focused on STEM content and activities since the 2010-11 academic year, and serves approximately 60 under-served, under-represented upper-elementary and middle school students each year. Students are bused to the Siena College campus on 14 Saturdays during the academic year, for a total of up to 70 contact hours per year. Students participate in short morning and afternoon meetings as a group, take two classes, and eat lunch in the college cafeteria. Classes are taught by college STEM faculty, STEM professionals, and undergraduate STEM students.

The Urban Scholars Program has a similar percentage of White and Latinx students, more African American students, and somewhat fewer Asian students than the district (see Figure 1). Participants were
very similar to non-participants in the poverty levels of the neighborhoods in which they live (see Figure 2).

Most students (93%) begin as 5th or 6th graders. Students in 5th - 6th grades comprise 41% of the participants and 7th-8th graders comprise 59% of the participants. Most students (92%) participate for 2 or more years, equating to 28 Saturdays or a approximately 140 contact hours. Of those, 26% participate for 3 years and 21% participate for 4 or more years.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Ethnicity of the students in the district (a) and students in the USP program (b).


Figure 2. Poverty level of the students in the district (a) and students in the USP program (b).

II. Outcomes

A. Data Collection and Primary Questions
Recently, we began examining impact on New York State (NYS) assessments in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics during their middle school years, which take place while they are participating in
the program. Since many former students have progressed through high school, we also examine NYS Regents exams.

Participants are NOT self-selecting STEM achievers
The NWEA Math Growth score, a metric used by for schools to measure growth over time in math, was recorded for students from 2014-2017. As a baseline and to determine whether the students participating in the program are high achievers or are more motivated as compared to typical students in the school population, the NWEA score was recorded the year before participation and one and two years after the start of participation in the program. There was no difference in NWEA score before student participation and a very slight increase of 0.66 after one year of participation, showing that the students participating in the program were representative of the students in the school. As another potential indicator, final school grades in math courses (8th grade, algebra, geometry) were also analyzed and the participants in the program do not have higher course grades than their peers. Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting (VADIR) scores were analyzed and there were no differences for participants in the program and a control group. Based on these three results, the students in the program do not self select due to STEM interest or due to higher achievement in STEM courses.

Middle School Standardized ELA and Math Assessments
A comparison of the proficiency of participants in the Urban Scholars program and district students is shown in Figure 3a. Differences comparing participants in the program and non-participants were
significantly higher for both tests (p < 0.0001). 25% of participants passed middle school math assessments while 32% passed their ELA assessments.

High School STEM Course Taking
The topics of the regents courses examined include Living Environments (Biology), Earth Science, Chemistry, Physics, Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, Global History, US History, and English Language Arts. The passing rates on the state exams for Urban Scholar participants and district students for test years from 2013 to 2017 are shown in Figure 3b. Participants in the program passed at a higher rate (68%) than non-participants (p < .0001 ).

Figure 3
Figure 3. (a) NYSED ELA and Mathematics proficiency for USP participants (n=329 ELA, n=309 Math) and Albany students (n=9780 ELA, n=9171 Math) and (b) and Regents passing rates for years 2013 to 2017.

Passing rates and exam scores by subject are shown in Figure 4. Participants are passing at higher rates (Fig 4a) and with higher scores (Fig 4b) than non-participants.

Figure 4
Figure 4. (a) NYS Regents Pass rates by subject for USP participants and Albany students and (b) and Regents mean scores for years 2013 to 2017.

The number of students taking advanced STEM courses is increasing, as shown in Figure 5a. This correlates with the percentage of students graduating with advanced designation (Fig 5b).

Figure 5. (a) Number of high school math and science courses taken by USP participants and Albany students and (b) and the percentage of students graduating with advanced designation for years 2013 to 2017.


Graduating with Advanced Designation
Graduation information for district students and participants is shown in Table 1. Since students begin the program in 5th or 6th grades, and our analysis begins with them in 2010-11, few have moved through high school to graduation. The data is preliminary from the school district. Still, participants have higher graduation rates than non-participants for the two years with data available (2016-2017).

Table 1. Graduation of District Students and Program Participants for 2016-17 (n=30)

  District Urban Scholars Program
 Graduation Rate*  62%  93% - 100%
 Regents with adv designation  13%  43%

Image credit: Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs/Released. Public Domain, https://www.ang.af.mil/Media/Photos/igphoto/2000886896/