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N.S.F. Grant To Revitalize Science Project

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Washington

Apparently recovering from an embarrassing and potentially devastating loss of federal funding, the National Science Teachers Association has won nearly $4 million to test its plan for restructuring the high school science curriculum.

The National Science Foundation is expected to announce this week that it will award a $3.95 million grant to fund the association's radically revamped proposal to expand a science-reform initiative--already being used in middle schools--into a select group of high schools, according to Bill G. Aldridge, the N.S.T.A.'s executive director.

In a move that cast doubt on the future of the association's Scope, Sequence, and Coordination of Secondary School Science initiative, the science foundation last year declined to fund an application for $38 million to continue the project over five years and to expand it into high schools. (See Education Week, June 2, 1993.)

The N.S.F. has supplied $8 million of the $12 million spent over the past four years to implement the N.S.T.A. initiative.

Although the foundation does not discuss unfunded grant proposals, N.S.T.A. officials conceded last year that the federal agency's independent reviewers had found the original proposal "unfocused.''

They also said the reviewers argued that the proposal had failed to demonstrate the efficacy of the initiative in the middle schools where it is being tested.

The 32-month first phase of the revised project, which will involve 9th graders at 13 public and private high schools in six states and the District of Columbia, has a "much greater focus and attention to detail,'' Mr. Aldridge said.

The new grant, he said, is designed to yield "experimental evidence'' that the interdisciplinary, multiyear scope-and-sequence approach is a more effective and engaging teaching strategy than the traditional sequence of biology, chemistry, and physics.

The project abandons the three-year, "layer cake'' hierarchy of science courses, requiring instead that students study each branch of the natural sciences every year.

The N.S.T.A. will apply on an annual basis for funding to expand the program to subsequent grade levels.

Give-and-Take Approach

Russell Aiuto, the former director of research and development for the scope-and-sequence project, said the new grant is a reflection of a give-and-take process between federal officials and Mr. Aldridge.

"Bill took to heart the reviewer's comments and tried to design a project that tested in a clear and more convincing way the efficacy of scope and sequence,'' he said.
Mr. Aiuto, who helped develop both of the grant applications, left the N.S.T.A. in January to take a job with the Washington-based Council of Independent Colleges.

In emphasizing yearly study of each of the natural sciences, the scope-and-sequence initiative follows the approach used in many European countries.

But, Mr. Aldridge acknowledged, although it is supported by research, there is no direct evidence the approach will work in American high schools.

"I've really made a strong assumption that everybody can learn chemistry and physics at a sophisticated level,'' he said.

"What I'm saying is quite at odds from what everybody has traditionally believed,'' Mr. Aldridge said. "But it's a hypothesis, and it's testable in an experiment.''

He said, however, that because of the way science is taught in high school, where teachers are often specialists in a particular subject, the apparent success of the approach in middle school may not be replicable in the later grades.

"High school is a tougher problem,'' he said. "That's where the battles are going to be.''

Under the terms of the grant proposal, Frances Lawrenz, a researcher on curriculum and instruction at the University of Minnesota, will act as an independent evaluator for the project.

Ms. Lawrenz will conduct a study comparing student achievement in the project high schools with that of a control group of students at similar schools outside the program.

Tied to National Standards

Mr. Aiuto said that, in contrast to the previous grant proposal, which combined several different approaches to reform from a number of sites, the new version sets out to achieve clear and unequivocal goals.

"The other [proposal] had a built-in set of variations that would have allowed different sites to interpret scope and sequence differently,'' he said. In the new proposal, he explained, "the consistency from site to site will be much greater, and the variation will be much more regional and cultural.''

Moreover, in the new initiative, the scope-and-sequence curriculum framework, which was outlined in a document called the "Content Core,'' will be revised to reflect the national standards for science content, teaching, and assessment being developed by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. (See Education Week, March 2, 1994.)

"This will be the first [science] reform project that has both been tested and that conforms to the national education standards,'' Mr. Aldridge said.

Active Role for Aldridge

In another significant departure from the previous proposal, Mr. Aldridge himself will act as the director and principal investigator for the new grant.

Although his name is almost synonymous with the development of the scope-and-sequence approach, Mr. Aldridge had adopted a hands-off posture toward the project almost since it started.

According to some observers, Mr. Aldridge had been reluctant to turn over control of the initiative to others, but did so in order to placate critics within the N.S.T.A. who said he was too closely identified with the effort.

Mr. Aldridge said that, in retrospect, distancing himself was a mistake because the individual centers began to deviate widely from the original project design.

Although the revised project will focus on high schools, Mr. Aldridge said that the middle school component of the project will continue under its own momentum.

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