According to the most recent updates to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Environmental Literacy Planning and Student outcomes, our partners continue to make progress towards meeting the environmental education goals under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
The two education outcomes are measured using the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Environmental Literacy Indicator Tool (ELIT). The ELIT is administered every two years as an electronic survey. Participation is voluntary and data collection is targeted to only public-school districts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office organized data collection in 2019, and representatives from state boards of education in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, along with the District of Columbia, distributed the survey to local education agencies within their jurisdiction.
The Environmental Literacy Planning outcome calls for each of the participating watershed jurisdictions (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia) to develop a comprehensive and systemic approach to environmental literacy for all students in the region.
The ELIT shows that since 2015, school districts in the watershed have become more prepared to develop a comprehensive and systemic approach to environmental literacy. For example, the percent of school districts that assessed themselves as being “well-prepared” rose from 22% in 2017 to 27% in 2019. Even more promising, data collected from participating local education agencies over the past three years indicate a steady increase (about 3-4%) in the preparedness of school districts.
The ELIT also helps track progress toward the Student goal, which calls to continually increase students’ age-appropriate understanding of the watershed through participation in teacher-supported Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) and rigorous, inquiry-based instruction. The Student goal aims for at least one MWEE in elementary, middle and high school depending on available resources.
After elementary school grades showed a slight increase in 2017, data collected through the ELIT in 2019 showed that the proportion of districts with system wide MWEEs have reverted to levels on par with 2015. Middle school grades show a slight decrease in the proportion of districts with system-wide MWEEs from 2017 and 2015. However, high school grades show a slight increase in system-wide MWEEs, after remaining fairly stable from 2015 to 2017.
While 45% of local education agencies in the Chesapeake Bay watershed did not respond to the ELIT, those districts that did respond represent 63% of the public elementary, middle and high school students that reside inside the watershed.
Maryland (home to 24 school districts in the watershed) and the District of Columbia (home to one school district in the watershed) saw 100% response rates. Virginia (home to 94 school districts in the watershed) saw an 81% response rate. Delaware (home to 16 school districts in the watershed) saw a 44% response rate. Pennsylvania (home to 499 school districts in the watershed) saw a 29% response rate. West Virginia (home to 55 school districts in the watershed) saw a 7% response rate.
Local education agencies and state departments of education play critical roles in supporting, developing and implementing in-school environmental literacy programs. The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Education Workgroup connects natural resource agencies, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, colleges, and scientific and professional experts to help education agencies develop and deliver programs that impact environmental instruction in the classroom and the field. A concerted effort toward environmental literacy and education will form the foundation towards informed and active environmental stewards.
Footnote: *The 2019 reported data for Pennsylvania and Virginia include a small subset of data that was gathered in the 2017 survey period. The exact same survey tool was used in the 2019 survey and data from 2017 was only carried forward if a district did not respond to the 2019 survey. Delaware did not participate in the 2019 survey and the data reflects their 2017 responses. New York does not currently collect ELIT data.