ACESSE Collaboration

Learning scientists from the University of Washington and the University of Colorado Boulder, along with educators, are embarking on a national effort to make science learning more coherent and equitable.

The Advancing Coherent and Equitable Systems of Science Education (ACESSE, or “access”) project has received a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation that will bring together partners from educational research and practice to tackle the problem. The project is based on deep collaboration between the UW, CU Boulder and the Council of State Science Supervisors.

“Educators are frequently asked to perform a balancing act, trying to implement state and local initiatives that often don’t coherently fit together,” said Philip Bell, a co-principal investigator on the project and Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences at the UW College of Education. “This disconnect can make it difficult to make improvements across school systems. With this project, we are attempting to address this need head-on.”

Incoherence can serve to reinforce educational inequalities, as it provides an extra challenge for schools that are already struggling with accountability pressures or assessment systems. The ACESSE project aims to keep equity a focus in the work of state-level education systems. State leaders can work with local districts, schools, communities, parents and students to develop visions of inclusive instruction and commitment to providing more equitable opportunities to learn.

To that end, the ACESSE project is bringing together educators and researchers to co-develop, co-research and collaboratively pilot strategies, based off of this unique blend of expertise and experience.

Advancing Coherent and Equitable Systems of Science Education

Strategies and resources that come from this project will be shared around the country through a network of science supervisors. The ACESSE project aims to not just study of what is occurring in these states, but also to develop, test and improve on resources and strategies that educators and researchers design together.

“Through ACESSE, I've been able to have vital discussions in my state about how important it is that we critically analyze policies and initiatives to ensure they don't pull in opposite directions from the main goals we've already set for science education,” said Oklahoma State Science Director and co-PI Tiffany Neill. “When we're evaluating an initiative, we're thinking more about the system in which this initiative has already worked and how that system may or may not be similar to our own.”

This fall, 45 state-level educators from 13 states met with researchers from the UW and CU Boulder for the ACESSE all-team kick-off meeting, where they began brainstorming resources and building a network of partners to support one another in this work. The project will use an iterative approach called design-based implementation research to develop and refine strategies and resources.

ACESSE begins its work as educators are implementing the new vision for science education based on the National Research Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education and the resulting Next Generation Science Standards. This vision calls for major changes to curriculum, instruction, assessment and involvement of community science resources, elements that all should align to make science more accessible and meaningful to all students.

“Ultimately, our aim is to benefit students across the country by increasing their abilities and knowledge in science and engineering, allowing all students to think scientifically, engage in public discussions about science, and decide their own futures,” said Bill Penuel, principal investigator for the project and professor of learning sciences and human development at CU Boulder. “We want to expand diversity in STEM fields. And for that, we need to improve access to quality STEM education around the country by making learning opportunities more coherent and aligned.”

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Education and Human Resources Core Research program (NSF Grant #1561300).


Philip Bell, Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences

Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications