At Long Last, Calif. Board Adopts Standards for All Core Disciplines

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California now has a complete set of academic standards in the core subjects, after the state school board approved outlines of what students should know in science and history and social sciences.

The unanimous adoption of science standards this month followed extensive debate among commissioners assembled to write the standards, but the history/social sciences document was approved with little discussion.

The science battle primarily pitted advocates of a traditional emphasis on academic content against those who stressed the use of hands-on learning. ("Science FRICTION," Sept. 30, 1998.)

Supporters of the more traditional approach won in the package approved by the board. The new standards specify what students at every grade level should learn.

For example, one standard says 3rd graders should know that matter is composed of elements listed on the periodic table, and 5th graders should understand how those elements combine to create table salt, water, and carbon dioxide.

The standards also spell out what subjects within the field students should learn from the 6th grade through the 8th grade.

"The standards we have adopted are consistent with what the most reliable research tells us about student learning, without mandating experimental curricula and counterproductive learning fads," Yvonne W. Larsen, the president of the California school board, said in a statement. "They emphasize content, problem-solving, and conceptual understanding."

Despite their specificity, the science standards won't stop teachers from encouraging students to engage in experiments that will help them understand the academic content, one of the authors of the science document said.

The standards "are meant to say what the results are," said Bill Evers, a member of the commission that wrote the standards and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think tank based at Stanford University. "They are not meant to dictate the classroom process."

Less Controversy

The history standards were not as controversial as the science standards, Mr. Evers suggested, because they did not stray far from a framework adopted in the 1980s.

The state board late last year approved standards in mathematics and language arts. An advisory panel to the board is writing curriculum frameworks explaining how districts should use the standards in those subjects. The panel will also draft frameworks for science and history/social sciences.

While the state board says the standards are voluntary, schools will eventually be held accountable for students' learning what is in them because the state is producing assessments based on the content of the standards.

Vol. 18, Issue 8, Page 12

Published in Print: October 21, 1998, as At Long Last, Calif. Board Adopts Standards for All Core Disciplines
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