NSTA Begins Effort To Create Science Standards

By Peter West — May 15, 1991 4 min read

Washington--The National Science Teachers Association has begun an ambitious multi-year project to develop national standards for the teaching of precollegiate science that will help to “inform and guide” the education-reform movement.

When the standards are completed--possibly as soon as four years from now--the association hopes they will provide guidance on what students ought to know about science, how that knowledge should be taught, and how science competency should be assessed.

“Obviously, there is a lot of concern, from the grassroots level to the White House, about the condition of science education,” said John R. Staver, a professor of science education who chairs the 80-member task force on developing the standards.

“We have the potential and the wherewithal to do a lot better than we’re doing right now,” he added. “But [the reform] movement is struggling for direction, particularly at the grassroots level.”

The task force, which was organized in March at the NSTA’s annual conference in Houston, held its first meeting here early this month.

Mr. Staver, the director of the Center of Science Education at Kansas State University, said the creation of a standards task force was urged by another NSTA panel that was charged with establishing long-range goals for the association.

“They listed as their top priority the development of standards for school science,” he said.

The standards project also has won the support of Bonnie J. Brunkhorst, the NSTA’s president.

The association intends to apply for grants from the National Science Foundation and other groups to support what Mr. Staver described as a “multimillion dollar” project.

The growing momentum of the science-education reform movement, as well as the inclusion of proficiency in mathematics and science among the national education goals enumerated by President Bush and the nation’s governors, is also helping to instill a sense of immediacy among the project’s planners.

“We’ve got the President calling for improvements in science education, and we’re sensitive to that,” Mr. Staver said. “And we feel that if we don’t [devise standards], someone else will.”

The development of science standards is expected in some ways to parallel the development of mathematics guidelines that were released two years ago by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

A companion volume that con8tains a series of professional standards for teaching mathematics was also recently released. (See Education Week, March 13, 1991.)

However, Mr. Staver noted, important differences that exist between the two disciplines will affect the development process.

“Science is a much more diverse enterprise, and the science-education community represents much more diverse points of view than mathematics,” he said.

Such diversity dictates that the development of standards be an “open and inclusive” process that reaches out to the various professional organizations in science education as well as to general education groups and business entities.

Already, Mr. Staver said, representatives of such business-education collaborations as the Maryland-based Triangle Coalition have attended the task force’s early meetings.

James D. Gates, the math teachers’ council’s executive director, who served on his group’s standards commission, also attended the most recent science-standards meeting.

“This is such an important issue that no one wants to create what the business would call ‘company standards”’ specific to a particular discipline, Mr. Staver said. “We want to create ‘industry standards.”’

Without a comprehensive outreach, he said, “one runs the risk that the product will be rejected.”

The task force also hopes the process will be shorter than the more than decade-long effort that resulted in the mathematics standards.

One of the NSTA’s first steps in the process probably will be to apply for a planning grant to determine how the existing task force can be divided into working groups to “structure this rather monumental task,” Mr. Staver said.

When the work actually gets under way--perhaps as early as next fall--the task force probably will hold a series of regional public hearings to solicit advice on its goals and will also encourage educators at all levels of science teaching to participate in the process.

“The people who will ultimately be working on this will [range] from elementary teachers to scientists,” he said. “Wherever we need expertise, we’re going to go out and ask people to participate.”

Once drafts of the proposed standards have been developed, they will be circulated for review by science educators. The revised drafts will then be made available for comment from the general education community and “possibly even into the business world.”

Mr. Staver said it is expected that once the standards have been adopted, they will promote a restructuring of science education that will extend beyond the classroom to such segments of the educational community as textbook publishers, who frequently are criticized for producing inferior products.

“The thing that influences textbook publishers is what teachers want,” he said. “If we can help teachers to want something different, then the mainline publishers will respond very quickly to that.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 1991 edition of Education Week as NSTA Begins Effort To Create Science Standards