Next month, Louisiana’s state board of elementary and secondary education is expected to vote on new science standards.
A committee worked for six months to produce new standards for the state, which currently has some of the oldest science standards in the nation. The group voted nearly unanimously to approve the standards last week.
Under the new benchmarks, there are fewer standards per grade level with more opportunities for students to dig deeper into the subject. For example, there are 15 standards under the new framework related to 3rd grade science. Currently, the state has 62 “grade-level expectations,"or standards, for 3rd graders in science.
We recently talked to Karen Parrino about the new standards. She’s been teaching for more than 25 years and served on a science standards work group made up of educators that examined the standards for students in kindergarten through 8th grades. She also served on the Science Standards Review Committee, which was comprised of classroom teachers, administrators, and college professors.
Parrino is one of the state’s teacher-leader advisors who has helped to write curriculum. She teaches kindergarten at North Live Oak Elementary in Livingston and also runs a summer science institute for students in kindergarten through 3rd grades.
Parrino is certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and teaches her students using a science immersion curriculum she created. In 2016, the Louisiana Science Teachers Association named her the state’s Outstanding Elementary Science Teacher of the Year.
Below is a lightly edited version of our conversation.
What was the most challenging part of developing the new science standards?
We had challenges of different opinions like you always do, lots of discussions and lively discussions about what should be in the standards, what should not be there, but I think that added a lot to the thought process. We had a lot of time to dig deep and really refine the standards.
Since your current standards have been in a place since 1997, I imagine there was a lot of revision that needed to be done. Which area required the most work?
Basically, we really started from scratch. We wanted to make sure we had engineering practices throughout. We looked at different areas just to make sure that we had the best standards that we could possibly give our students in Louisiana. We wanted to use clear language and not be vague, and we wanted to make sure that we were grade appropriate. The work group broke off at times into small groups like K-2, 3-5, and then junior high and high school. At other times, we were looking at different things like vertical alignment. We got together as a large group and went through each standard by standard.
Looking at the new standards you developed and the old standards, what would you say is the biggest difference to the approach?
Students will be engaged, actively involved. They’ll be doing science, not just getting worksheets or being taught from the book. It’s going to change what learning science looks like in a science classroom. That’s the biggest takeaway for me, and that’s what I’m excited about.
Were you at all influenced by the Next Generation Science Standards?
We did look at Next Generation Science Standards and several other states that had adopted standards, and there were many things we liked about them.
Are some of the standards you developed unique to Louisiana?
Yes, the standards were written by Louisiana educators and experts for Louisiana students.
What are some of those unique standards?
There are a few about climate, things that are specific to our state as far as geographical features. We have a lot of coastline and low-lying areas that make our state unique.
How did you primarily get feedback as you were writing drafts of the standards?
Around December, we opened a portal up on the state department of education website. It was for parents, educators, any stakeholders to go in and comment on the standards. As part of the committee, we met and we went over every single comment, every statement, every concern, and we addressed it.
In some states, developing new science standards has been pretty contentious, but it seems like you were able to avoid controversy regarding topics such as climate change and evolution. How did you do that?
We looked at evidence, the best scientific evidence, and we went on that.
Photo: North Live Oak Elementary Students Alexis Monroe (left) and Lyla Achord (right) explore “snow” they created in Karen Parrino’s kindergarten class. (Karen Parrino)
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.