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Science Educators Discuss Standards Projects

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KANSAS CITY, MO.--Educators who are guiding efforts to develop national standards for what students should know and be able to do in science gave science teachers gathered here this month a glimpse of what such standards for teaching and assessment might look like.

Hundreds of educators packed two days' worth of sessions updating the progress of the three working groups of the National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment held during the annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association April 1-4.

Working under the aegis of the National Research Council, the three working groups are developing standards for course content, teaching, and assessment. To date, prototype standards have been released only for content. The most recent version of those standards was published in February. (See Education Week, Feb. 24, 1993.)

The work of the assessment and teaching panels has not progressed as rapidly, N.R.C. officials told participants here. Nevertheless, representatives of both groups discussed their preliminary conclusions.

Audrey B. Champagne, the leader of the assessment working group, described an approach to assessment that would be "teacher centered'' and depend much less on such external measures as standardized tests.

"Teachers are the ones who are best placed to make decisions on student achievement,'' said Ms. Champagne, a chemistry professor and the chairman of the department of educational theory and practice at the State University of New York at Albany.

She acknowledged, however, that the public has a "great misplaced trust in quantitative scores on standardized tests [in lieu of] the qualitative measures that teachers are prepared to make.''

Setting assessment standards thus becomes, she said, "an effort that is fraught with political ambiguity.''

The assessment standards she outlined focus on "enhancing both student learning and teaching,'' and include more student involvement in designing assessments.

They also stress better linking of the types of assessment used to their eventual purposes in grading, determining accountability, and setting policy.

"Often,'' she said, "policymakers don't know enough about science to make good decisions based on test data.''

The teaching group, said Karen Worth, the head of that panel, has thus far identified only "very broad, very generic'' standards.

Ms. Worth, a senior associate at the Education Development Center in Newton, Mass., said the group continues to ponder what distinguishes good teaching from good science teaching, as well as how good science teaching differs across the grade levels.

Four Teaching Standards

Members of that group have identified four standards areas thus far:

  • Planning and designing of programs, frameworks, and content.

This standard focuses on teachers designing and selecting science programs that will reflect the content standards and how students best learn science. It also addresses how teachers should choose the best classroom resources and materials.

  • Creating and supporting the learning environment.

This standard addresses how teachers can best create a "community of learners'' in the classroom.

  • Guiding and facilitating science inquiry.

This standard deals with the need for teachers to create learning opportunities for students, including empowering students to take responsibility for their own learning.

  • Assessing and reflecting on practice.

This standard, which overlaps with the assessment panel's work, focuses on the ongoing assessment of learning and teaching to guide instruction.

The group has yet to address the issue of professional development, Ms. Worth said.

The eventual standards should not conflict with efforts under way by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to certify outstanding teachers, Mr. Worth said, noting that the standards group and the N.B.P.T.S. have close ties.

A progress report on all three working groups is due in June, with a more substantial report, possibly including prototype standards in teaching and assessment, due next winter, academy officials said.

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