K-12 Outreach

A Study of the Impact of Project Lead the Way on Achievement Outcomes in Iowa

  • David Rethwisch (University of Iowa)


Iowa has implemented the secondary engineering curriculum Project Lead The Way (PLTW) in an effort to create a more seamless transition for students from secondary school into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics post-secondary programs. PLTW has been implemented in all fifty states; however, there has been sparse research to-date that has rigorously measured the impact of PLTW on mathematics and science achievement. We used Iowa’s statewide longitudinal data system to follow multiple cohorts of PLTW participants and nonparticipants from 8th grade into secondary education. We derived a comparable treatment and control group by matching students based on their propensity to enter PLTW, permitting a stronger interpretation of the program’s impact than prior studies. The findings indicate PLTW participants are more likely to be white, male, and perform in the upper quartile in mathematics and science prior to PLTW enrollment. Further, we found statistically significant evidence that PLTW increases mathematics or science scores on the Iowa Test of Educational Development by 5 points after controlling for selection bias. The 5 point increase in mathematics score corresponds to roughly a half of a grade level. The effect size (f2) for mathematics was 0.15 and 0.05 for science—a moderate and small effect size, respectively. Further studies will also need to properly account for pre-existing ability in mathematics and science when determining achievement outcomes to ensure results are not being driven by pre-existing ability. This study has implications for researchers, practitioners, and policy makers regarding the comprehensive evaluation design and the critical role that PLTW can play to increase the participation, both generally and within non-traditional groups, in postsecondary STEM education in the U.S.

How to Cite:

Rethwisch, D., (2014) “A Study of the Impact of Project Lead the Way on Achievement Outcomes in Iowa”, 2014 ASEE North Midwest Section Conference 2014(1), 1-18. doi: https://doi.org/10.17077/aseenmw2014.1033

Rights: Copyright © 2014, David Rethwisch

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Published on
17 Oct 2014
Peer Reviewed