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Virginia 2010 Validation Grant Abstract


George Mason University

PR Award Number:


Project Title:

Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA)

Project Director:

Donna Sterling

Amount of Award:


Length of Award:

5 years

Absolute Priority:

AP1: Effective Teachers and Principals

List of Partners (with states for each):

All VISTA partners are in Virginia.

School Districts
Albemarle County
Amherst County
Appomattox County
Arlington County
Bedford County
Buckingham County
Buena Vista City
Campbell County
Charlottesville City
Chesterfield County
Clarke County
Culpeper County
Fairfax County
Floyd County
Fluvanna County
Frederick County
Fredericksburg City
Grayson County
Greene County
Hanover County
Hopewell City
Loudoun County
Louisa County
Lynchburg City
Madison County
Manassas City
Manassas Park City
Mecklenburg County

Nelson County
Newport News City
Orange County
Poquoson City
Portsmouth City
Prince William County
Rockbridge County
Rockingham County
Russell County
Spotsylvania County
Stafford County
Staunton City
Virginia Beach City
Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind
Warren County
Waynesboro City
Williamsburg-James City County
Winchester City
York County

College of William & Mary
George Mason University
James Madison University
University of Virginia
Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Polytechnic

Project Website:

Description of Project:

The Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) is a partnership among 47 school districts, six universities, and the Virginia Department of Education to build an infrastructure to provide sustained, intensive science teacher professional development to increase student performance. The goal of VISTA is to improve science teaching and student learning throughout Virginia, especially in high-needs (high poverty, high minority) schools.

Through the initiative, upper elementary teachers (grades 4-6) experience problem-based learning and student-centered inquiry as they work in teams to conduct inquiry-based science for children. Uncertified or provisionally licensed secondary science teachers in grades 6-12 are provided with just-in-time coaching and "big picture," research-based teaching coursework for 2 years. VISTA builds state infrastructure for the leadership and support needed to extend quality inquiry-based science teaching to limited-English-proficient students, rural students and students with disabilities.

VISTA offers innovation by enhancing the effectiveness of elementary and secondary science teachers through intensive, sustained professional development focused on problem-based, inquiry-based science teaching. This professional development begins in the summer and continues throughout the school year with coaching from experienced teachers. Another innovation is the focus on building infrastructure in the state through a focused effort to build capacity among principals, school district science coordinators, and university science and science education faculty. These two innovations will offer a heightened focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Virginia.

Program objectives are as follows:

  • Increase student learning in science, including learning among students with special needs and limited English proficiency.
  • Enhance the quality of elementary science teaching by including inquiry-based teaching.
  • Enhance the quality of teaching by new, often underprepared secondary science teachers, in part by enabling them to have students conduct inquiry-based laboratory activities.
  • Increase the number of certified middle school and high school science teachers.
  • Increase access for rural teachers to professional development.
  • Build the state infrastructure to support effective science teaching and learning.
  • Conduct research to determine what makes the most significant difference in helping teachers to help students learn.

Expected outcomes for students include increased scores on statewide science tests. Expected outcomes for teachers include improved science teaching. The 140,000 students of teachers who receive professional development through VISTA will benefit directly. VISTA will ultimately affect 61 percent (760,000) of K-12 students through school district science coordinators. The project is designed to be validated in Central Virginia (Virginia Commonwealth University) and Tidewater Virginia (College of William & Mary) following the original effort in Northern Virginia (George Mason University).

Description of Evaluation:

The objectives the VISTA evaluation are to (1) document the implementation of the teacher professional development components of VISTA and (2) track and assess the extent to which VISTA promotes positive outcomes for teachers and students. The evaluations of the VISTA elementary and secondary teacher professional development programs will be conducted as randomized controlled trials (RCTs). The elementary school evaluation uses a delayed-start design, in which teachers who are initially randomized into the control condition receive the treatment the following year. The secondary school evaluation uses a traditional RCT design, with teachers randomized into either the treatment or control condition.

Project Evaluator:

Randy Bell and Timothy Konold


University of Virginia

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Last Modified: 05/01/2012