JVER v29n3 - Cognitive Learning, Student Achievement, and Instructional Approach in Secondary Agricultural Education: A Review of Literature with Implications for Future Research

Volume 29, Number 3

Cognitive Learning, Student Achievement, and Instructional
Approach in Secondary Agricultural Education: A Review
of Literature with Implications for Future Research

M. Craig Edwards
Oklahoma State University


The "coin of the realm" in education today is student achievement, its measure, and its relationship to school accountability. An almost singular emphasis is placed on student achievement in "core" academic areas. The constructs of cognitive learning, student achievement, and instructional approach in agricultural education have been studied by researchers; however, little has been reported about it in the context of today's educational priorities. This study reviews research describing the kind of cognitive learning that ought to be occurring in secondary agricultural education and suggests implications for future research about cognition, achievement, and instruction. Future inquiries should involve interdisciplinary partnerships to identify practices that hold promise for supporting student learning across the curriculum if delivered effectively in the context of secondary agricultural education. Moreover, it is recommended that the integration of effective curricula and instructional approaches from other disciplines into secondary agricultural education and opportunities for reciprocity be studied further.

Introduction and Conceptual Framework

"Over the past decade the United States has been engaged in the most sustained period of educational reform since the Progressive Era" ( Elmore, 1995, p. 356 ), a trend that continues in the 21st century. Evidence of impetus for this reform movement has been well documented by national reports such as A Nation at Risk ( National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983 ), Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) (1991) , Breaking Ranks: Changing an American Institution ( National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1996 ), and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 ( United States Department of Education, 2004 ). These reports called for a restructuring of fundamental components of the American educational system and identified opportunities for systemic improvements in education.

Further, the National Research Council (1996) concluded that the level of "scientific literacy" needed to understand and make informed decisions about the use of technology continues to increase. Yet assessments of student achievement for the sciences and mathematics, frequently, do not indicate levels of performance congruent with a society and workplace that is increasingly demanding that its citizens and employees be literate in these disciplines. In the case of student performance in mathematics, close scrutiny of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data reveals that, although some moderate improvement of scores for selected age groups has occurred, the math performance of 17 year-olds remained more or less "flat" for three decades ( United States Department of Education, 2001 ). The science achievement of this age group actually declined.

Researchers ( Britton, Huntley, Jacobs, & Weinberg, 1999 ; Hoachlander, 1999 ; Parnell, 1995 ) have suggested that often the science and mathematics being taught is too "abstract," and, it appears that for many students, it lacks the sufficient real world "connection" and relevant "context" necessary to be learned adequately and applied effectively. Concomitantly, investigators ( Balschweid & Thompson, 2002 ; Balschweid, Thompson, & Cole, 2000 ; Conroy & Walker, 2000 ; National Research Council, 1988 ; Shelley-Tolbert, Conroy, & Dailey, 2000 ) in agricultural education have suggested that agriculture, food, and the environment are robust and authentic contexts for improving student learning in science and mathematics. However, does sufficient empirical evidence exist to support that claim? To this end, the National Agricultural Education Research Work Group called on the agricultural education profession to

  1. identify current research in agricultural education that corroborates effective school-based educational practice,
  2. analyze and probe the "gaps" in the research, and
  3. focus action and engage others in seeking ways to communicate and coordinate a research agenda that will aggressively examine research problems related to high school student achievement, particularly mathematics, science, and reading, over the next five years (G. Shinn, personal communication, August 19, 2002).

Moreover, informing school leaders about factors that impact student learning, and, ultimately, student achievement, and assisting them in making related decisions should be one of the primary goals of educational researchers, including those who investigate the performance of students enrolled in secondary agricultural education. So, what has been said about what ought to be occurring in agricultural education in regards to student learning is an important body of literature to coalesce and interpret; thus, it was the focal point of this study.

Cognitive Learning

This paper examines the mental processes or thinking behaviors underpinning cognitive learning or cognition from a "situated" or "contextual" perspective, i.e., knowledge acquisition and understanding gained by students enrolled in secondary agricultural education who experience learning in the situation or context of agriculture, food, and the environment. Imel (2000) argued that "contextual learning" or learning "directly related to the life experiences or functional contexts" (p. 1) of the learner is grounded in constructivist learning theory. Doolittle and Camp (2004) defined constructivism as "the belief that learners construct their own knowledge from their experiences" (Constructivism section, para. 1), and operationalized it as "the active creation and modification of thoughts, ideas, and understandings as the result of experiences that occur within a socio-cultural context" (Constructivism section, para. 2).

Moreover, Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1996) opined that the context in which learning and its requisite cognizing occurs "is an integral part of what is learned. Situations might be said to co-produce knowledge through activity. [And that,] Learning and cognition, it is now possible to argue, are fundamentally situated" (p. 20). Brown et al. also framed context-rich learning experiences as authentic learning or "authentic activities," i.e., "ordinary practices of the culture" (p. 25) through which the act of learning unfolds. Other researchers ( Capaldi & Proctor, 1999 ) posit the role of context vis-à-vis how one learns is not restricted to theories about learning but that, "Context is also presumed to play a crucial role in perception, cognition, and memory" (p. 112), prerequisites to sustained learning and measurable cognitive achievement. Researchers in agricultural education, e.g., Buriak, McNurlen, and Harper (1996) , supported that position when they concluded, "The best way for learners to learn how to use knowledge in multiple contexts is to have the experience of applying [italics added] knowledge in multiple contexts" (p. 32). It was from the aforementioned perspectives that literature describing student achievement in secondary agricultural education was explored.

Student Achievement

Glaser (1963) defined "achievement measurement . . . as the assessment of terminal or criterion behavior" (p. 519), and stated that it involved "the determination of the characteristics of student performance with respect to specified standards" (p. 519). In addition, he posited that "Underlying the concept of achievement measurement is the notion of a continuum of knowledge acquisition ranging from no proficiency at all to perfect performance. [And, that] An individual's achievement level falls at some point on this continuum as indicated by the behaviors he [or she] displays during testing" (p. 519). Regarding the measure of student achievement in an era of "High Stakes Testing," such as assessments used to determine a student's readiness for advancement in grade or one's eligibility for high school graduation, Connors and Elliot (1995) found that high school seniors in Michigan "who had agriscience and natural resource classes performed as well as seniors who did not . . . on the [standardized] science achievement test" (p. 62). Moreover, Chiasson and Burnett (2001) found that 11th grade agriscience students from all schools in Louisiana "achieved significantly higher overall scores than non-agriscience students on the science portion of" their state's Graduate Exit Examination.

Elliot and Zimmerman (2002) compared the performance of career and technical education (CTE) students, including students enrolled in agricultural education, with that of other students on the Stanford9 high stakes test in Arizona. They concluded that, "When the appropriate extraneous variables[, i.e., handicapped, limited English proficiency, economically disadvantaged, academically disadvantaged, or being a single parent,] are built into the equation and controlled for, there usually is no difference between CTE and other students on standardized test scores" (pp. 11-12). And, that "differences in scores can be attributed to the effects of the extraneous variables and not because of curriculum choice" (p. 12).

Seminal work by Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl (1956) described six levels of cognition, that is, the levels of thinking often referred to as Bloom's Taxonomy . This approach to describing thinking behaviors delineated cognition into lower- and higher-order thinking skills and conceptualized them in a hierarchical fashion ( Bloom et al. ). Numerous researchers ( Cano & Martinez, 1989 ; Flowers & Osborne, 1988 ; Newcomb & Trefz, 1987 ; Torres & Cano, 1995a ; Whittington & Newcomb, 1993 ) in agricultural education have supported, tested, and/or adapted Bloom et al. posits. For example, using Bloom's model as a framework, Newcomb and Trefz (1987) developed a similar model for classifying cognitive behaviors consisting of "four levels of learning" that may be demonstrated by agricultural education students: remembering, processing, creating, and evaluating. What is more, "The need to have students graduate with the demonstrated capacity to think at the higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy is more urgent than ever. The nature of the world we live in demands it" ( Newcomb, 1995, p. 4 ). So, teaching methodologies and instructional practices that support the creation of such intellectual "capacity" by students must be a priority of all educators, including secondary agricultural education teachers.

Instructional Approach

Carroll (1963) posited a "model" for understanding differences in educational achievement that involved the interaction of five variables. Two of Carroll's variables were expressed "in terms of achievement": "'quality of instruction' and [the student's] 'ability to understand instruction'" ( Carroll, 1989, p. 26 ). In support, Bloom (1974) stated that, "When the quality of instruction is high, the level of achievement of the students and the time on task increase" (p. 687). Other researchers ( Rettig & Canady, 1996 ) reported that in schools where active learning methods were pervasive the students demonstrated "significantly higher achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress" (p. 2). To this end, Darling-Hammond and Falk (1997) concluded,

Research on schools that have met high standards and maintained low retention rates with diverse student populations provides insights into successful teaching strategies. Teachers in these schools offer students challenging, interesting activities and rich materials for learning that foster thinking, creativity, and production. They make available a variety of pathways to learning that accommodate different intelligences and learning styles, they allow students to make choices and contribute to some of their learning experiences, and they use methods that engage students in hands-on learning. Their instruction focuses on reasoning and problem solving rather than only recall of facts, . . . . (p. 193)

Many agricultural educators posit that instruction in agricultural education, i.e., classroom and laboratory teaching and learning, inculcates much of what investigators ( Bloom, 1974 ; Carroll, 1963 ; Carroll, 1989 ; Darling-Hammond & Falk, 1997 ; Glaser, 1963 ; Rettig & Canady, 1996 ) have identified as the variables required for cognitive learning to occur effectively.

Further, Lynch (2000) asserted that, "Much of the recent theories and research on cognition and learning clearly support some of the pedagogical approaches historically used by career and technical educators-'learning by doing,' 'heads and hands,' 'theory and practice,' and cooperative education" (Student Learning Motivation, and Achievement section, para. 4). In particular the hands-on/minds-on approach to learning ( Haury, 1993 ; Haury & Rillero, 1994 ; Lumpe & Oliver, 1991 ; National Research Council, 1996 ; Von Secker & Lissitz, 1999 ) espoused by a plethora of educational theorists, researchers, and practitioners-whether called applied learning, authentic learning, contextual teaching and learning (CTL), inquiry-based instruction, problem-based learning (PBL), self-regulated learning, or situated cognition-shares pedagogical "kinship" with the philosophical basis on which secondary agricultural education rests. Accordingly, "learning in agricultural education has been [and continues to be] both 'hands-on' and 'minds-on' in intent, design, and delivery" ( Edwards, Leising, & Parr, 2002, p. 2 ).

But, arguably, more has been said about cognitive learning, its ultimate outcome student achievement, and the role of instruction in regards to what ought to be occurring in secondary agricultural education than has been measured rigorously and replicated experimentally. Cano (1990) argued that, "An analysis of the literature related to cognitive development of students, indicated a paucity [emphasis added] of findings regarding vocational education students' level of cognitive performance. [And, that,] Specifically, research in determining the level of cognitive performance of vocational agriculture students was lacking" (p. 74). Moreover, the National Agricultural Education Research Work Group concluded that, "more rigorous research in school-based agricultural education is needed to identify effective practices that contribute to state and national educational priorities and to identify strategies for assessment and documentation of student achievement based on accepted educational standards" (G. Shinn, personal communication, August 19, 2002).

Purposes of the Study

A primary purpose of this study was to review selected research describing what has been said by earlier investigators about cognitive learning, student achievement, and instructional approach in secondary agricultural education. The central research question supporting attainment of this objective was the following: What have researchers in agricultural education said about what ought to be occurring in secondary agricultural education in regards to cognitive learning, student achievement, and instructional approach? A second purpose was to suggest implications for future systematic research about cognitive learning, student achievement, and instructional approach in secondary agricultural education.


Sources of data included findings, conclusions, implications, and recommendations made by agricultural educators who had described cognitive learning, student achievement, and instructional approach in agricultural education ( n = 42). Manuscripts focusing on career and technical education ( n = 13) from a broader perspective and, in some cases, general education ( n = 26) were cited as well to provide additional sustenance to the conceptual frame of the paper and to support selected recommendations and implications.

The literature reviewed included doctoral dissertations, national commission reports, articles from professional journals and magazines, position papers, books, papers from research conference presentations, and on-line Internet publications. Studies appearing in these references were found through library system searches at three land-grant universities and through selected on-line search engines. Cited manuscripts were published from 1956 through 2004. All references were subjected to internal and external criticism.

Marsh (1991) concluded that, "Integrative inquiry involving empirical/historical/ interdisciplinary approaches demonstrates moderate levels of success in bringing together important concepts from diverse sources" (pp. 279-280). However, Marsh maintained that one of the most important outcomes resulting from an integrative inquiry or "research synthesis" was to "point up the gaps in available knowledge which researchers still need to fill" (p. 276). To that end, selected guidelines for conducting a form of integrative inquiry were followed ( Marsh, pp. 271-283 ). Special attention was paid to six guiding principles, i.e., "primary activities," identified by Roberts (as cited in Marsh ) regarding selection, analysis, and interpretation of literature supporting this inquiry. They were,

identify need/request, conduct preliminary search, clarify request; conduct the search for and retrieval of studies; selecting, screening, and organizing studies; determining the conceptual framework and fitting it to the information from the analysis; developing the synthesis and interpretation into a material product; and delivering the results of synthesis. (p. 277-279)


Cognitive Learning and Student Achievement in Secondary Agricultural Education

The Committee on Agricultural Education in Secondary Schools ( National Research Council, 1988 ) concluded that a re-directing of agricultural education programs was in order if program graduates interested in studying agriculture at the college and university levels were to do so and then be prepared to enter the workforce successfully. Implicit to the committee's conclusion was the need for agriculture teachers to provide students with ample opportunities to practice critical thinking skills with increasing variety and frequency. Ware and Kahler (1988) supported the committee's conclusion when they stated, "It is important that critical thinking be stressed to encourage students to think critically, objectively, and analytically in order to handle real-life situations and problems" (p. 283). They also found members of the discipline concurred that the teaching of critical thinking "must be pushed to the forefront of instructional emphasis in the vocational agriculture curriculum" (p. 280). Additionally, Ware and Kahler opined, "Since the agricultural industry is becoming increasingly technical, teaching critical thinking will grow in significance in agricultural education" (p. 280). The researchers concluded that there was a "need to refocus their [i.e., agriculture instructors'] teaching more toward critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making" (p. 283). In agreement, Rollins (1990) stated that "agricultural educators should incorporate principles of critical thinking and problem solving into their curricula" (pp. 52-53).

Cano (1990) reported that significant associations existed between agriculture teachers' "intended" levels of cognitive instruction, i.e., their instructional objectives for a given lesson, and students' levels of cognitive performance when tested. Accordingly, Cano recommended that instructors should "develop [and deliver] a curriculum which appropriately challenges the students at all levels of cognition" (p. 79), including higher-order thinking behaviors. Cano and Metzger (1995) observed Ohio horticulture teachers to determine their cognitive levels of instruction as identified by the Florida Taxonomy of Cognitive Behaviors (FTCB), a derivative of Bloom's Taxonomy modified to include the levels of "translation" and "interpretation" (instead of comprehension). They found that "84% of teaching occurred at the lower levels of cognition (knowledge, translation, interpretation and application), and that teaching at the higher levels of cognition (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) occurred 16% of the time" (p. 39). The investigators concluded that teachers should modify their curriculum ( Cano, 1990 ) and course materials as well as instructional practices if the ultimate aim was to assist students in achieving learning objectives that supported higher-order thinking.

Moreover, Cano and Newcomb (1990) argued that agriculture teachers "should purposefully create learning situations which assist in the development of higher cognitive abilities in students" (p. 51). Similarly, Cano and Martinez (1989) recommended that, "Students of vocational agriculture should be challenged to develop stronger cognitive abilities and critical thinking abilities at higher levels through the instruction they receive" (p. 364). And, Rollins, Miller, and Kahler (1988) asserted, "As a result of low levels of critical thinking observed . . ., agricultural educators must incorporate principles of critical thinking and problem-solving into their curriculum if [students'] scores are to be improved" (p. 40). Rollins et al. (1988) contended further, "It is vital that knowledge and thinking skills become tools that can be used by students for the preservation and advancement of agricultural knowledge by present and future generations of this society" (p. 34). The investigators also maintained that, "By teaching students how to think and learn independently, we increase their power to think and learn outside of the classroom" (p. 34).

Regarding the transfer of learning, Miller (1998) opined that, "Nurturing higher-order thinking and the ability to transfer are particularly important in a rapidly changing environment" (n. p. #). Yet Cano and Newcomb (1990) posited that, "if insufficient learning occurs at the higher levels of cognition, then students are not graduated adept at operating at the higher orders of cognition" (p. 46).

Cognitive Learning, Student Achievement, and Instructional Approach in Secondary Agricultural Education

Boone (1990) stated, "The problem solving approach to teaching has been widely accepted as the way to teach vocational agriculture [i.e., agricultural education]" (p. 18), and "When students solve real problems, use the scientific method to reason through a problem solution, test potential problem solutions, and evaluate the results of the solution, retention of knowledge learned through this activity has to be increased" (p. 25). Further, Boone (1990) concluded that, "The problem solving approach to teaching increases the level of student retention of agricultural knowledge learned during an instructional unit" (p. 25). In support, Flowers and Osborne (1988) found "that for high level cognitive items [e.g., analysis, synthesis, and evaluation] students taught by the problem solving approach had less achievement loss than students taught by the subject matter approach" (p. 25).

Torres and Cano (1995a) posited that, "The use of thinking skills in problem situations is universally recognized as a prominent objective for all educational academies" (p. 46), including agriculture. Torres and Cano (1995b) also argued, "Cooperative learning, integrating higher-order thinking skills into the current curriculum, and a more constant use of the problem-solving approach to teaching are but a few means by which we can excel in teaching higher-order thinking skills" (p. 9). And, Cano and Martinez (1989) recommended that, "Further research needs to be conducted to determine the extent to which problem solving instruction, which has been the cornerstone of vocational agriculture, contributes to the cognitive ability and critical thinking ability development of the students" (p. 364).

Dyer and Osborne (1996) concluded that, "the problem solving approach is more effective than the subject matter approach in increasing the problem solving ability of students," and, moreover, the "increase transcends [students'] learning styles" (p. 41). The results of their study indicated that the problem-solving ability of agricultural education students who are field-dependent learners can be enhanced "to a level of effectiveness nearly equal to that possessed by field-independent learners" (p. 41) if the instructional approach is used effectively.

In a study where students received instruction either via simulation or through the use of appropriate realia (power train or tractor), Agnew and Shinn (1990) found no significant differences in student achievement, immediate or delayed, for selected agricultural mechanics subjects (i.e., dc electricity and hydraulics). Therefore, the researchers concluded that simulation could be an effective method when teaching these subjects in the absence of actual materials.

Although Johnson, Wardlow, and Franklin (1997) found no significant differences in the achievement of agriculture students-either immediate or delayed-regarding the mastery of physical science principles, they reported that students who received instruction involving hand-on activities, as opposed to traditional worksheets, expressed "significantly more positive attitudes toward the subject matter" (p. 14). Johnson et al. recommended that agriculture teachers "expand the use of hands-on instructional activities to enhance student affective outcomes" (p. 14). Further, the researchers encouraged agriculture instructors to consider using selected methodologies commonly practiced in science education as a means of improving their teaching. In addition, Johnson (1991) used the FFA Agricultural Mechanics Contest as a "lens" to assess students' "mathematical problem solving ability" (p. 27). He found that their abilities to solve related mathematical word problems were poor. Johnson suggested that if the event participants' mathematical ability was representative of all secondary agricultural education students, then "instructional programs should be designed" (p. 27) to mitigate their deficiencies.

Roegge and Russell (1990) assessed "the effect of incorporating [i.e., integrating] biological principles into a unit of instruction in vocational agriculture on student achievement and attitudes" (p. 27). Students who were taught through the "integrated" instructional approach performed better overall and on specific measures of applied biology than those students who did not receive integrated instruction. Other investigators ( Enderlin & Osborne, 1992 ; Osborne, 2000 ) also explored the applicability of science education methodology in the teaching of agriculture. For example, Enderlin and Osborne (1992) compared student achievement and thinking skill attainment of learners enrolled in integrated agriculture and science courses, i.e., Biological Science Applications in Agriculture (BSAA), to those who received instruction in traditional horticulture courses. After comparing pre- and post-achievement test scores, they found that the BSAA group achieved significant gains in agricultural and biological science knowledge while the students enrolled in horticulture did not. Although student gains for composite thinking skills were not significant for either group, the researchers concluded that students who received "higher quality laboratory instruction" (p. 43) performed better.

Osborne (2000) compared student performance in laboratory-based agriscience courses depending on "level of openness" for selected laboratories. He compared the efficacy of using prescriptive lab experiments (i.e., a "cookbook" or "recipe" approach) to lab exercises that were substantially more investigative or "open" in format. The researcher found that students who participated in labs that followed a prescriptive format performed better than those who carried out the same experiment but in a more open, investigative nature. However, Osborne suggested that students' preferred learning styles ("a large majority of students . . . were field dependent learners") may have mitigated his results. Thus, the researcher only cautiously recommended that those "agriculture teachers with primarily field dependent learners should use a prescriptive, cookbook approach to [teach] their experiment-based agriscience labs" (p. 75).

Conclusions, Recommendations, Discussion, and Implications

Researchers have concluded that cognitive learning, including student behaviors involving critical thinking, higher-order thinking skills, and problem-solving, ought to be occurring in secondary agricultural education. In addition, various instructional methodologies, including problem-solving as a teaching approach, simulation, applied learning activities, integrated curriculums, and laboratory teaching practices, have been tested and then proffered by researchers to describe and, in some cases, explain relationships between cognitive learning, student achievement, and instructional approach in secondary agricultural education.

Investigators believed that the agriculture, food, and environmental system could be an appropriate learning context for assisting students in thinking critically, in exercising higher-order thinking skills, and in coalescing these and related thinking behaviors to solve problems, assuming agriculture teachers demonstrate effective instructional behaviors in a sustained fashion and support progressive cognitive learning by their students. Further, substantial congruence exists between what some eminent educational researchers ( Bloom et al., 1956 ; Bloom, 1974 ; Carroll, 1963 ; Carroll, 1989 ; Darling-Hammond & Falk, 1997 ; Glaser, 1963 ; Resnick, 1987 ; Rettig & Canady, 1996 ) have said is "best practice" in the pursuit of improved student learning and what occurs in many agricultural education classrooms and laboratories.

The National Agricultural Education Research Work Group, in cooperation with the profession "at large," is attempting to identify "research-based practices used in secondary school-based agricultural education that contribute to student achievement in the academic areas" (G. Shinn, personal communication, December 12, 2002). After conducting a synthesis of literature describing preservice agriculture teacher education programs nationwide, Myers and Dyer (2004) found support for the work group's initiative. They concluded, "Major emphasis is being placed on how agricultural education can contribute to the academic achievement of students in the areas of science, mathematics, and reading. [And,] Research is needed to identify how agricultural education can fill this gap" ( Myers & Dyer, 2004, p. 50 ). However, inherent to the success of this effort may be the profession's acumen in reaching out to scholars, practitioners, and other potential collaborators, who represent the academic subjects that agricultural education seeks to establish its relevance to, and support of, in regards to student achievement. Sustained effort should be devoted toward that purpose at all levels of teacher education ( Conroy & Sipple, 2001 ; Eisenman, Hill, Bailey, & Dickison, 2003 ; Parr & Edwards, 2002 ; Parr, 2004 ; Pearson, 2004 ; Zirkle, 2004 ).

Much of the research described by this study relied on descriptive and causal comparative methodologies. Undeniably, investigations of this nature, when done with sufficient rigor, hold substantial value ( Gall, Borg, & Gall, 1996 ). Yet if testing treatments to establish "cause and effect" and to make "inferences" about the efficacy of those interventions with significant confidence is the ultimate aim, then more studies that employ experimental designs are needed ( Slavin, 2003 ). Preferably, inquiries employing randomized controlled trials that are well-designed and implemented and thus capable of yielding "'strong evidence'" ( United States Department of Education, 2003, "How to evaluate whether an educational intervention . . ." section ) are required.

More so, high-level decision-makers in many state education agencies and at the federal level are making decisions that are founded solely on empirically-based evidence that was rigorously obtained ( Slavin, 2003 ). In the future, more research on student achievement in secondary agricultural education must reach or exceed these standards.

Is the aforementioned "picture" adequate in the context of contemporary educational initiatives? Is the "frame" containing the portrait even large enough for today's agenda? Moreover, is the study of cognitive learning, student achievement, and instructional approach solely in the context of secondary agricultural education "sufficient"? Perhaps it is not. In particular, problem-solving, as an instructional approach and as a learning outcome of agricultural education, was highlighted by the findings of this study. However, is "problem-solving," in the context of agricultural education, i.e., how teachers use it and how students are expected to demonstrate it, congruent with how the method and learner expectation is "operationalized" in science education ( Myers & Dyer, 2004 ; Parr & Edwards, in-press ) or in mathematics education ( Shinn et al., 2003 )? For example, is it correct to assume that "problem-solving" and the "scientific method" are one in the same? Further, what about curriculum integration and contextualized learning? And, what about the constructs of critical thinking and higher-order thinking skills? Is our "collective" meaning and practice similar or different? Are the ways that agricultural educators conceptualize and practice these teaching strategies similar to those of colleagues whose disciplines we may aspire to support while furthering the career preparation objectives of secondary agricultural education?

But if agricultural educators are serious about effectively demonstrating their discipline's relevance to supporting learning across the curriculum , now is the time to ally with science, mathematics, and reading educators such that we act in concert in discovering how agricultural education may best serve student learning in an interdisciplinary scheme ( Castellano, Stringfield, & Stone, 2003 ; Zirkle, 2004 ). For example, exploratory work by Myers, Washburn, and Dyer (2004) concluded that a purposive sample of secondary agricultural education teachers in Florida (n = 40) did possess a high level of "requisite knowledge to perform and apply [science] integrated process skills" (Conclusion section, para. 2). In turn, teachers who possess these skills should be more ably equipped to help students learn and understand the plethora of scientific principles and concepts undergirding agricultural knowledge and practice. The measure of student performance in a randomized control trial would be the "litmus test" for this posit ( United States Department of Education, 2003 ).

According to Myers et al., "Science integrated process skills have been identified in the science education literature as an effective inquiry method of teaching science" (Conclusion section, para. 1). This kind of work is encouraging and needed but, as the investigators indicated, teachers sampled had an "expressed interest" (Conclusion section, para. 2) in integrating science into their teaching, and additional research was required before broader generalizability of findings could be established. Moreover, these inquiries should reach the standards of rigor described by Slavin (2003) , the United States Department of Education (2003) , and others.

Interdisciplinary partnerships would also assist agricultural educators in understanding better how selected pedagogical aspects of science ( Edwards et al., 2002 ; Johnson et al., 1997 ; Melodia & Small, 2002 ; Myers, Washburn, & Dyer, 2004 ; Parr & Edwards, 2002 ; Parr & Edwards, in-press ; Roegge & Russell, 1990 ; Stewart, Moore, & Flowers, 2004 ; Zirkle, 2004 ), mathematics ( Melodia & Small ; Shinn et al., 2003 ; Stewart et al., 2004 ; Zirkle, 2004 ), and reading education ( Parks & Osborne, 2004 ; Stewart et al., 2004 ; Zirkle, 2004 ) could improve teaching and learning in agricultural education and include opportunities for reciprocity toward other curriculums. Hernández and Brendefur (2003) examined teacher participants in MathNet a project where mathematics and vocational-technical teachers were teamed for the purpose of developing authentic, integrated, standards-based mathematics curriculum. They concluded that under optimal conditions teachers who represented different disciplines and views about schooling and school culture could work together effectively to produce "highly authentic, integrated, and standards-based curriculum units" (p. 277). But the researchers ( Hernández & Brendefur ) concluded that, "the research base for conducting interdisciplinary curriculum integration initiatives in secondary schools and post-secondary institutions is largely undeveloped" (p. 278-279).

Regarding another effort to impact student mathematics achievement, Pearson (2004) described the pilot-phase of an experimental study testing the hypothesis that high school students could learn selected mathematical concepts better if the teaching and learning relied on a "math-enhanced CTE curriculum" (p. 22) delivered using an aligned instructional approach than would their peers who received a more traditional curriculum and teaching method.

This study was pilot-tested during the spring semester of 2004 and involved five CTE program areas, including secondary agricultural education, i.e., agricultural power and technology and horticulture. Participating career and technical education teachers developed the math-enhanced lesson plans in cooperation with math teacher partners who, in most cases, were colleagues at their local schools. The project was planned and facilitated by the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) ( Stone, Alfeld, Jensen, Lewis, & Pearson, 2004 ). This study reaches the standard of experimental rigor (Posttest-Only Control Group Design; see Campbell & Stanley, 1963 ), i.e., a randomized controlled trial, called for by the United States Department of Education (2003, "How to evaluate whether an educational intervention . . ." section) , by Slavin (2003) , and by other educational researchers.

Further, Parr (2004) found that Oklahoma secondary students who received instruction in agricultural power and technology through the math-enhanced curriculum and instructional approach performed significantly better than their peers who did not. Student post-treatment math performance was measured by a nationally-normed, standardized examination used frequently to determine an individual's need for math remediation at the post-secondary level. The effect size or "practical significance" of the finding was "large" ( Parr, p. 83 ). Other measures of student math achievement for the one-semester pilot study were not significant. However, the study is being conducted for a full academic year during 2004-2005 ( Pearson, 2004 ; Stone et al., 2004 ) and researchers anticipate that the model's effect on student math achievement will be demonstrated more broadly.

Notably, the most recent National Assessment of Vocational Education (NAVE) report ( United States Department of Education, 2004 ) identified "curriculum development strengthening academic content of vocational courses" (p. 21) as a strategy to improve student academic achievement. The NRCCTE-sponsored study described ( Stone et al., 2004 ; Parr, 2004 ; Pearson, 2004 ) and those similar in design seek to empirically test the effects of that NAVE-recommended strategy in the context of career and technical education programs, including secondary agricultural education.

In 1990, Cano recommended that additional research be carried out that focused on "the level of cognition of instruction and student performance in agricultural education on a broader, more comprehensive scale" (p. 79). Cano's use of the phrase "comprehensive scale" may have been farsighted. It is no secret that today the "coin of the realm" in education is student achievement, its measure, and its relationship to accountability-student, teacher, program, school, and organization. What is more, an overarching, almost singular emphasis is being placed on student achievement in "core" academic areas. So, if this is the "table of education" now and, perhaps, for the foreseeable future, will secondary agricultural education have a place at that table? The evidence needed to answer that question affirmatively must be gathered and then shared with appropriate decision-makers at all levels, especially those who are charged with allocating resources and establishing educational priorities ( Stewart et al., 2004 ).


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Author Note

M. Craig Edwards is Associate Professor and Director of Student Teaching in the Department of Agricultural Education, Communications, and 4-H Youth Development at Oklahoma State University , 448 Agricultural Hall, Stillwater, OK 74078-6031. Telephone: 405.744.8141; Fax: 405.744.5176; E-mail: edwarmc@okstate.edu ; craig.edwards@ okstate.edu