Success for all students: TOSS program closing science achievement gap

Prof. Angela BauerThere are numerous reasons why UW-Green Bay Prof. Angela Bauer won the 2013 UW System Board of Regents Diversity award in the individual category.

A longtime advocate of raising the bar for all learners, Bauer, Human Biology, consistently has worked to close the academic achievement gap, bring minority scientists to campus and make the science curriculum more diverse.

But perhaps the effort that has received the most attention is TOSS — Targeted Opportunities for Student Success in Science, a program that has been effective in closing the achievement gap (Bauer prefers the term “opportunity gap”) in Introduction to Human Biology courses. Using teaching assistants to connect students with the material and foster a sense of community, TOSS workshops are making a difference for students — minority and majority alike.

“The idea for the TOSS workshops came about when (UW-Green Bay multicultural adviser) Shawn Robinson and I had been having some discussions about the achievement gap that existed between white students and students of color within our introductory science courses,” Bauer said. “When we started studying some of the data about the achievement gap, what we found was that the gap wasn’t necessarily related to students’ lack of academic preparation coming into our classroom — that even when we controlled for their ACT scores, the gap still existed.”

And while the term “achievement gap” is a familiar part of the education lexicon at all levels, Bauer prefers to frame the issue differently.

“Really the issue that is at hand is the classroom environment that we are creating,” she said. “Are we fostering the success of all students, or are we creating an opportunity gap? And I really tend to view this phenomenon as an opportunity gap.”

TOSS workshops video

So in 2009, Bauer launched the TOSS program, which encourages multicultural students — and others — to participate in weekly workshops with teaching assistants who are trained in both the course material and in culturally responsive approaches to teaching.

“We offer a couple of different TOSS workshop sections per week for students,” Bauer said. “And the workshops are smaller in size than what the traditional lecture setting is, so students meet in groups of maybe 20 to 24. And it allows for more interactions with their peers and also with their teaching assistants. And we really, again, place an emphasis on creating community within that context.”

Robert Sewell is a senior Human Biology major currently in his second semester as a TOSS teaching assistant. He enjoys the interaction of TOSS and says the workshops have helped him hone leadership skills as he leads review sessions and works with fellow students.

TOSS workshops video

“A lot of students find science to be in some way scary and I don’t know why,” Sewell said. “And I’m gradually trying to get students to not think that way, because science is funbut you just have to approach it differently.”

The TOSS workshops are making an impact, Bauer said.

“We now have four years’ worth of data,” she said. “And in every single semester in which TOSS workshops are offered, the achievement gap has been eliminated. So the academic performance between white students and students of color is essentially the same.”

Freshman Isaac Wells has been a frequent TOSS workshop attendee. As a Computer Science major, Human Biology isn’t his strongest subject — but the workshops are making a difference.

“Even if you’re good at this, it’s just always — if you’re a Human Biology major, it’s still good to go and review,” Wells said. “And if you’re maybe like me, a Computer Science major — you’re a Sociology major or something not at all related to science, then it’ll definitely help you. I’d recommend — anyone who needs a little extra help, I’d definitely recommend going.”

For more information on Bauer and other UW-Green Bay award winners, visit the UW-Green Bay Institutional Honors page.