Integrating Literacy and Science Instruction in High School Biology: Impact on Teacher Practice, Student Engagement, and Student Achievement

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This report describes findings from a research study examining the effects of integrating academic literacy instruction with biology coursework on teacher instructional practices and student achievement in science and reading. A randomized controlled study was designed to test the following hypotheses:

H1: Teachers participating in the Reading Apprenticeship professional development program will exhibit greater increases in knowledge and skills regarding the integration of literacy and science, and will demonstrate greater integration of literacy into their instructional practice than teachers in control classrooms.

H2: Students in experimental classrooms will demonstrate greater increases in science understanding, reading proficiency, and engagement in science learning than their counterparts in control classrooms.


This research takes place in high school biology teaching & learning in schools serving traditionally low-achieving students in the state of California.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is comparative and cross-sectional and it’s designed to generate evidence that is descriptive [observational--e.g., field note excerpts, interview quotes, narrative vignettes] and causal [experimental, quasi-experimental, statistical modeling, and hierarchical linear modeling].

This project collects original data using assessments of learning [achievement tests], observations, and surveys [self-completion and structured interviewer-administered questionnaires]. Other instruments of data collection include teacher surveys, teaching assignments, teacher interviews, student opportunity to learn surveys, integrated learning assessments involving reading and writing in biology topics, and California standards tests in reading comprehension and biology.

To estimate program impacts, outcomes for teachers and students in treatment classrooms were compared to the outcomes for their counterparts in control classrooms. We analyzed the effectiveness of intervention using hierarchical regression models to account for clustering of the data by school (Goldstein, 1987; Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002; Murray, 1998). In each of the impact analyses, we controlled for baseline (pre-test) measures of outcome variables when available, randomization strata (i.e., pairs), and student-level covariates when analyzing student outcomes. In addition to examining main effects for program impacts on student performance outcomes, we also examined differences in impacts for the following subgroups: (1) English learners and English proficient students (test scores only), (2) females and males, (3) racial/ethnic groups, and (4) and low- and high-performing students. For the outcomes assessed with student OTL surveys, we examined differential impacts across student gender, race/ethnicity, and student home language (English and non-English).


Multiple sources of implementation data indicate that compared to the control teachers, the intervention teachers were more knowledgeable about and more able to integrate the teaching of science reading with science content, to create classrooms characterized by collaborative inquiry and meaning making with science texts, to engage students in the work of text inquiry, and to offer their students tools in the form of comprehension routines and strategies to support their work with science texts.

The results of student Opportunity to Learn Surveys favored the treatment group and were statistically significant for two of the six measures: Emphasis on Reading in Biology —a measure of teacher instruction, guidance and support for science reading —and Student Integration of Biology & Literacy—a measure of student practice of comprehension supporting routines and strategies. Students in treatment schools also reported higher levels on the Student Identity construct than students in control schools (p=0.054). Moreover, the impacts appear to be more robust and consistent for students from non-English speaking families than for those from English-speaking families – with four out of the six outcomes being statistically significant for non-English background students and one out of the six outcomes being significant for English background students.

For the California Standards Tests, students in the treatment schools performed better than their counterparts in control schools on all state standardized assessments: English language arts, reading comprehension, and biology. The effect sizes of 0.23, 0.24, and 0.28 on English language arts, reading comprehension, and biology CST tests give an estimate of the magnitude of the difference between student test scores in the intervention and control groups. A year of reading growth at the high school level has been estimated to produce a magnitude of change of approximately .19 (Hill, Bloom, Black, & Lipsey, 2008). This indicates that students in the intervention classes were about one year ahead of their counterparts in control classes at the end of the study. Thus, there is some evidence that the intervention—professional development to support implementation of the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework in high school biology classes—is associated with increases in teaching quality and student achievement.

Publications & Presentations: 

Greenleaf, C., Litman, C., Rosen, R., Boscardin, C., Herman, J., & Schneider, S.A., et al. (in press). Integrating Literacy and Science in Biology: Teaching and Learning Impacts of Reading Apprenticeship Professional Development. American Educational Research Journal.