The relationship between inquiry-based science instruction and student achievement

Michael Louis Suarez


Teaching science through inquiry has become a focus of recent educational reform in Mississippi and other states. Based on the Constructivist learning theory, inquiry instruction can take many forms, but generally follows the scientific method by requiring students to learn concepts through experimentation and real-world, hands-on experiences. This dissertation examines the relationship between the amounts of time spent using inquiry-based science instruction and student achievement as measured by the Mississippi State Science Assessment. The study also identifies teacher perceptions of inquiry and the amount of professional development received by participants on using inquiry-based instructional techniques. Finally, this study identifies factors that hinder the use of inquiry. Using a 24-question written survey, the researcher collected quantitative data from 204 science teachers in grades K-8 in four southern Mississippi school districts. Participants rated their average amount of time spent using inquiry-based science instruction in their classrooms. These results were then compared to each school's average test score on the 2009-2010 Mississippi State Science Assessment using a Spearman rho correlation. A significant positive relationship was found between amounts of time spent using inquiry-based science instruction and student achievement. The participants also indicated their perceptions of inquiry, amount of professional development, and deterrents to inquiry usage on a five-point Likert scale survey. Overall, participants held a favorable opinion of inquiry-based instruction and felt that it was important for their students' success. Over half of participants had not attended professional development on inquiry-based instruction. A majority indicated a desire for professional development. The most commonly identified factor hindering the use of inquiry was a lack of materials and resources. Many participants also indicated that time constraints prevented more frequent use of inquiry in their classrooms.