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Exploring the Latest Trend in STEM Learning: Seals, Certifications, and Other Endorsements

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 -- Brianna Pyka

Education is changing fast, and STEM learning may be changing even faster. For many, it’s hard to keep up with the ever-changing options related to STEM learning, including certificates, seals, and concentration opportunities for students at the high school level. We’re breaking down what they look like, what value they’re providing, and what the future of STEM endorsements may entail.

Understanding STEM Seals and Certificates

What do all of the different STEM credentials actually mean? The short answer is that each is unique. For example, AdvancED's STEM Certification is a national initiative that “provides institutions as well as programs within institutions a research-based framework and criteria for their awareness, continuous improvement and assessment of the quality, rigor and substance of their STEM educational programs.” The certification lays out standards that must be met by STEM learners, educators, and experiences—like student participation in performance-based assessments, educator training specific to technology use, and school partnerships with community business and industry—to ensure that learning is rigorous, hands-on, and applicable to in-demand careers.  

Other endorsements are state-specific undertakings designed to enhance the value of students’ diplomas. Rather than driving overall curriculum design, these state-based programs are more focused on the individual courses and/or achievement tests a student completes that indicate specific college and career skills.

For instance, Nevada established the “State Seal of STEM Program to recognize pupils who have attained a high level of proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” To earn a STEM seal on their diploma, Nevada students must complete the following:

Required grade point average:

  • 25 GPA or higher on a 4.0 grading scale or a 3.85 weighted GPA on a grading scale approved by the Superintendent of Public Instruction

Required STEM coursework:

  • 4 credits in science
  • 4 credits in math
  • 1 credit in computer science, engineering, manufacturing, electronics, or a CTE program in information and media technologies or skilled and technical sciences

Required test results:

Any one of the following science test results:

  • Score of 3 or higher on an AP® science exam
  • Score of 4 or higher on IB® science exam
  • Score of 650 or higher on SAT® science section
  • Score of 23 or higher on ACT® science section
  • Grade of B or higher in a dual-enrollment, college-level science course
  • Gold or higher on ACT National Career Readiness Certificate®

AND any of the following math test results:

  • Score of 3 or higher on AP math exam
  • Score of 4 or higher on IB math exam
  • Score of 530 or higher on SAT math section
  • Score of 22 or higher on ACT math section
  • Grade of B or higher in dual-enrollment, college-level math course
  • Gold or higher on ACT National Career Readiness Certificate

As another example, Texas’ STEM endorsement is based on similar, although more detailed, coursework requirements, without any stipulations regarding test results. To achieve the STEM endorsement, Texas students must complete the state’s general endorsement requirements in addition to the following STEM ones:      

Required STEM Coursework:

  • Algebra II
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Elective STEM Coursework (must complete one of these options):

  • 4 or more credits in CTE (with further stipulations)
  • 4 credits in computer science (from specific selections)
  • 3 credits in math consisting of Algebra II and 2 math courses for which Algebra II is a prerequisite
  • 4 credits in science consisting of Chemistry, Physics, and 2 additional science courses
  • 3 additional credits from no more than 2 of the previous options

What’s the Value of Adopting STEM Seals and Certificates?

STEM seals and certificates are still a very new offering in the world of education, and at this point, it’s too early to say exactly what is driving states to adopt these credentials or how students will put them to use. However, one common theme is that most of the states embracing STEM seals also offer extra credentials in other fields. STEM endorsements are another way for schools to offer students new options, tie learning to real-world skills, and allow students to take great ownership of their own academic journeys.

Although it’s too early to know if STEM endorsements will become a staple of education or fade away as a passing trend, the need to emphasize skills in these fields is undisputed. These national and state-level initiatives are a worthy experiment in closing the STEM skills gap and a trend that’s certainly worth watching.

Encouragingly, as this recent Education Week article points out, “the truth is there is no limit to creativity when implementing a true STEM shift into a school and district.” At Edmentum, we couldn’t agree more, and that’s why we’re proud to offer a broad library of online courses in core subjects, as well as STEM-intensive Career and Technical Education options. Want to learn more? Check out our Effective Online Courseware to Enhance STEM Learning, or explore our course catalog!