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Sciences Academy Explains Approach to Standards Process

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WASHINGTON--The National Academy of Sciences has released a document that outlines for the first time the approach it will take in developing standards for top-notch science teaching and assessment.

The document is the third in a series of "working papers'' released by the academy's National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment. Three working groups of educators and scientists are developing voluntary national standards for science content, teaching, and assessment.

In December, the committee released prototype content standards (See Education Week, Dec. 9, 1992.).

The new document, now being circulated nationwide for comment, is expected to be the last interim report released before a draft of the content standards appears this fall.

While conceding that "any division of the complex process of teaching is an oversimplification,'' the document describes five types of activities--such as "planning and developing science curriculum''--teachers should engage in to foster meaningful science instruction.

The report notes that the working group intends to focus on identifying characteristics that are unique to exemplary science teaching.

Another section sums up the work of the assessment working group by noting that "in our view, assessment is not synonymous with testing.''

"Rather,'' it continues, "assessment is a process whose purpose is to provide information ... on which to base decisions about student attainment and their opportunities to learn science.''

Policy, Program Standards

The report also outlines the development of two different types of standards.

One set of benchmarks, called "program standards,'' will "describe how content, teaching, and assessment are coordinated in classroom practice to provide all students the opportunity to learn science.''

"Policy standards,'' on the other hand, will address issues outside of the immediate classroom environment, such as teacher preparation and certification and resource allocation, and how they affect learning.

Focus groups of educators in the field had recommended that the committee develop these standards.

In a related development, the academy last month named Rodger Bybee, the associate director of the Colorado-based Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, to assume the chairmanship of the content working group.

Mr. Bybee succeeds Henry W. Heikkinen, a researcher at the University of Northern Colorado, who has headed the working group since its inception.

Academy officials said that Mr. Heikkinen, who could not be reached for comment, stepped down to devote more time to his post as the principal investigator of Colorado's State Systemic Initiative Program, a statewide science-education reform effort.

Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado also recently tapped Mr. Heikkinen to help develop state standards for science education.

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