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Researchers Set 'Ambitious' Time Line For Developing New Science Standards

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CHICAGO--The national education goals' emphasis on science achievement has helped place the development of national standards for precollegiate science teaching, curriculum, and assessment on a "fast track," a spokesman for the National Academy of Sciences said here last week.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, David Florio, the principal staff officer of the Coordinating Council for Education, an arm of the N.A.S.'S National Research Council, said the curriculum standards should be completed by the late fall of 1993.

Drafts of the teaching and assessments standards are expected to be completed at roughly the same time, Mr. Florio said. The final set of standards is scheduled for release for the summer of 1994.

"The time line is ... ambitious," he acknowledged.

The N.R.C., with financial support from the Education Department, is taking the lead in attempting to achieve a consensus among organizations representing precollegiate science educators on what students should know and be able to do in the subject.

Parallel Development

The N.R.C.'s activity in setting science standards is part of a large scale effort to develop national standards in at least five core subjects.

Last month, the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, a Congressionally mandated panel of educators and public officials, called the development of standards and a system of assessments to measure student performance against them "highly desirable," and recommended a new national council to oversee their development.

Science educators have warned that the setting of standards in that subject may be plagued by problems that did not affect the setting of standards in mathematics.

They have noted, for example, that the competing concerns of the various sub-disciplines, such as biology and chemistry, must be balanced for fairness and inclusion. They also pointed out that a balance must be struck between setting standards for students who plan to enter scientific disciplines as well as providing a challenging standard of science literacy for all students.

To help address those concerns, Mr. Florio said, the science standards will be developed by individual working groups and in consultation with professional organizations, lawmakers, and other "publics."

The working groups will be coordinated by a National Committee on Science-Education Standards and Assessment, whose members the N.R.C. expects to name later this month or in early March.

The heads of the teaching and assessment working groups will serve on the curriculum panel to ensure the "essential synergy" to perform the tasks.

Mr. Florio added that development is well on the way to series of "charges" to three working groups outlining their goals.

'A Particular Challenge'

In draft documents distributed here, the curriculum standards are described as "narrative descriptions" of what students should learn about science and its applications.

The standards will not, however, outline specific curricula, nor are they intended to represent syllabi or courses of study.

"It is a particular challenge to make sure that the mistake of equating knowledge with a simple list of facts [is] avoided," the draft notes.

Similarly, the teaching standards are expected to be developed as general guidelines for exemplary and effective instruction.

"They are not prescriptive descriptions of a 'best' way to teach or learn," according to the draft.

The work of the assessment working group is expected to focus on developing a basis for judging the quality of student assessments that might be developed at the state and local levels.

The working group, the draft document indicates, will provide examples of prototypes of tasks and types of assessment, but "they will not produce an actual assessment or test."

The standards-setting process will include a wide array of professional groups such as the National Science Teachers Association. It also is expected to draw heavily on concepts laid out in "Science for All Americans," a guide to scientific literacy developed by the A.A.A.s. 'S Project 2061.

Tensions already have begun to develop between the A.A.A.S. and other groups over the direction that standards-setting should take.

"This is probably going to be one of the most-watched enterprises in the nation," Mr. Florio said.

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