'Headline Summary' of Standards for Science Content Issued
Students in the early elementary grades should be able to "employ simple equipment and experiences to gather data,'' according to an outline of national standards for science content released here last week.
By the time students are seniors in high school, the standards continue, they should be able to "design and conduct full scientific investigations.''
Officials of the National Academy of Sciences released what they called a "headline summary'' of standards for science content, teaching, and assessment at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
When completed, the standards are expected to represent a consensus of a wide range of scientists and educators as to what skills and abilities are required to produce scientifically literate students and effective teachers of science.
But "this vision can only be achieved if schools as they exist today are changed,'' cautioned Angelo Collins, the director of the standards project for the academy's National Research Council.
The president of the academy, Bruce M. Alberts, who participated in several sessions here on K-12 education, noted that even when the standards are published, the work of science reform will have just begun.
"We have to realize these are only a first step in a very long journey,'' Mr. Alberts said.
"The destination really is what's important, and it's clear we want a different kind of science education than is available in most school districts today,'' he added.
'Not Curriculum Materials'
The summary document describes an organizational plan for the standards that differs from the academy's original charter to produce benchmarks for science curriculum, teaching, and assessment.
According to the summary, the final document will include "content standards'' that describe what students should know and be able to do in science; teaching standards that provide a "vision of what teachers need to understand and do'' to communicate the content; and assessment standards that "identify essential characteristics of fair and accurate'' tests that are consistent with the content standards.
The summary outlines attributes that should be demonstrated by students in grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 in seven basic areas.
The seven areas are: science as inquiry; physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; science and technology; science and social change; the history and nature of science; and an overarching section on the "unifying concepts and processes of science.''
Rodger Bybee, the head of the panel that is developing the content standards, said the document intentionally steers clear of saying explicitly what should be taught under particular headings.
The standards for science and social change, for example, call for students to be familiar with the underlying causes and consequences of population growth and environmental degradation. But they do not, for example, mandate teaching about "acid rain.''
"The standards are not courses of study,'' Mr. Bybee said. "They are not curriculum materials.''
"That's beyond the scope of the standards, and that's the way it should be,'' he added.
Summer Release Planned
The document also notes that the final version of the benchmarks will include a set of "program standards'' describing the necessary conditions at the classroom level to achieve the goals of the standards.
One program standard, for example, calls for students to have "equitable ... access to facilities, material, and equipment, skilled teaching, and a heterogeneous community of learners.''
A set of "system standards'' will spell out similar preconditions for educational success at the district level.
The eight-page document released last week is a far cry from the full draft that the A.A.A.S. had advertised as being scheduled for discussion at the meeting.
Ms. Collins said a full, integrated version of the standards will not be finished until at least May, and then will have to undergo additional review before it is made public.
A full first draft is not expected to be released until at least this summer, she added.
The academy has already sent out several early drafts of the standards for review by thousands of scientists and educators. But the draft scheduled to be completed in the spring will be sent in its entirety for review by a new audience of policymakers.
"One of the things that we have learned about sending out pieces is that people comment on what is not there,'' she said.
When questioned about the timetable, Ms. Collins quoted Mr. Alberts's earlier comment that the standards-setting effort "will take as long as it takes'' to produce a comprehensive document.
Sources familiar with the project suggested, however, that the delay is largely due to the departure of several high-level officials who were dissatisfied with the project's progress. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)