Science Pushing Forward in the Movement Toward Common Standards

On Aug. 4 the National Academy of Sciences Board on Science Education (BOSE), the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) held a briefing on the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards for educational publishers. During the meeting publishers were provided with background information on the history of science standards, the genesis of the new framework, and the writing group’s next steps. However, for instructional materials developers, the key message came from Stephen Pruitt, VP Content, Research and Development, Achieve Inc., who helped draft the framework and will coordinate the standards writing. According to Pruitt, the one thing everyone needs to be clear on is how completely different these standards will be from the way science is currently taught.

“Where we are headed is not where you are,” said Pruitt.

The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences was asked to create, “a framework that would provide unifying guidance for the nation’s schools to improve all students’ understanding of science.” They brought in science experts to break down the disciplines into their essential elements while at the same time working with educators to determine how much students can learn at each point in the process. Gone are traditional divisions of courses, e.g., biology in ninth grade, chemistry in tenth grade, and the traditional progression for teaching science in schools. Instead, the standards will integrate the disciplines across grade bands with two main goals:

    1. Coherent investigation of core ideas across multiple school years
    2. More seamless blending of practices with core ideas and crosscutting concepts

The framework is then organized around three dimensions.

    1. Scientific and engineering practices. The framework identifies eight key practices students should learn, such as asking questions and defining problems, planning and carrying out investigations, and engaging in argument from evidence.
    2. Crosscutting concepts. The framework also specifies seven concepts students should learn—such as “cause and effect” and “patterns”—that have explanatory value across much of science and engineering.
    3. Disciplinary core ideas. The framework identifies ideas in four disciplinary areas—life sciences; physical sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science. Students’ knowledge of these ideas should deepen over time, and the framework specifies aspects of each idea that students should know by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12.

“There are biases in the current implementation that work against new standards, e.g., teaching biology and chemistry separately when you need to understand chemical reactions to understand how food supplies energy,” said Brian Reiser, Framework Committee Member, Northwestern University. “You can’t separate the sciences to do this framework.”

The NRC recognizes that state and stakeholder buy-in are key. Now that the framework (this has been lowercase throughout) is complete and ready to go to the standards writing team, the NRC has asked for lead state partners to commit people, time, and money to developing the standards. (Twenty states have submitted applications to be lead partners with more voicing their support of the initiative.) In addition, the NRC plans to engage key stakeholders in the development process, including publishers, so they can provide feedback and work with the NRC to make sure the materials match the new learning goals.

Pruitt and Reiser said the implications for instructional materials are clear.

  • There should be no separate treatment of content and inquiry.
  • The materials need to do more than present and assess scientific ideas—they need to involve learners in using scientific practices to develop and apply scientific ideas.
  • There should be a careful construction of a storyline—help learners build sophisticated ideas from simpler explanations and provide more evidence for their reasoning.
  • Materials should show connections between scientific disciplines using powerful ideas (nature of matter, energy) across life, physical, and environmental sciences.

Finally, there will be a clear correlation between the science standards and the Common Core ELA and math standards so that teachers can see where the three subjects can tie in together. This is an area where instructional materials developers can help out as well. Unlike the ELA and math standards, however, there will probably not be a 15% variance.

“The scientific community has said here is what you need to know. If you leave part of that out, you are not creating children who have achieved scientific literacy,” stated Pruitt.

In 1996 the NRC created the National Science Education Standards. Pruitt said one difficulty with those standards is they focused more on assessment rather than on instruction. Moreover, there was no movement by the states to adopt them as a whole. States still had separate science goals, and most retained standards that rely on kids memorizing facts. With the Common Core movement for ELA and math, as well as the support of the current administration for STEM initiatives, the NRC felt the climate was ready for a new initiative.

“This is the science finally movement,” said Pruitt. “We have finally gotten to a place on the national level where we are ready to talk about science.”

The standards website will be unveiled in September 2011, and the writing teams and state partners will be announced then as well.

More information

“Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards”
Board on Science Education

“A Framework for K-12 Science Standards: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Idea”
National Research Council

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August 2011


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