In early 2012 the Thomas Fordham Institute released a study outlining the current state of science standards for grades K-12 in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. The analysis of the standards and the compilation of data are helping to develop the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), currently being developed by a core group of 26 states.
As the development of the NGSS moves forward, it is a perfect time for states and districts to continue refining their current standards. Being able to concisely outline the student learning that should occur is crucial for ongoing academic success.
The findings from the Fordham Institute varied greatly from state to state. Each state had strengths, weaknesses, and areas for continued improvement in regards to their state science standards. It is important to note that although the Next Generation Science Standards are currently in development Fordham continues to examine current standards with the intent of making continuous improvements. There must be constant refinement of current science curriculum expectations and not the expectation of "waiting" for a better set of standards to come along.
After Fordham's analysis was complete each state earned a traditional letter grade based on the overall quality of the science standards. In twenty six states the current science standards earned a D or an F, representing nearly 50 percent of the science standards being taught and assessed in the United States. Only 13 states, slightly more than 25 percent, received a B or better. Only two jurisdictions, California and The District of Columbia earned an A after the analysis was complete. Both received high marks for consistency, quality, and careful design of the science standards.
One factor, in particular, places the California science standards at the head of the pack. The California standards are extremely clear and concise. There is no ambiguity relative to what students are expected to know, understand, and be able to do. Examples include:
- The motion of objects can be observed and measured. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know the position of an object can be described by locating it in relation to another object or to the background.
b. Students know an object's motion can be described by recording the change in position of the object over time.
- Sources of energy and materials differ in amounts, distribution, usefulness, and the time required for their formation. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know the utility of energy sources is determined by factors that are involved in converting these sources to useful forms and the consequences of the conversion process.
The core standards (in bold) clearly describe the basic science core concepts students should understand. The outcomes are clearly defined. The accompanying indicators concisely describe more specific ways in which student learning should occur.
If you currently serve, or hope to serve on a committee that is drafting curriculum, take note of California’s clear and concise descriptions. It makes all the difference in the world, especially to a teacher who may be new to teaching science, and less familiar with its content.
For more best practice tips and a sneak peek into the soon-to-come Next Generation Science Standards, register for the Cutting Edge Science Webinar at 4 p.m. Wednesday! It’s not too late… there are still virtual seats available! Register here.