New Science-Standards Draft Incorporates Feedback

January 15, 2013 5 min read
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A second and final public draft of common standards aimed at reshaping K-12 science education was released last week for comment, following eight months of review and rewriting.

Organizers say the latest version reflects substantial changes from the draft issued in May, with a clear focus on taking to heart feedback gathered from more than 10,000 individuals and organizations.

“It’s pretty different from the last draft, significantly so,” said Stephen L. Pruitt, a vice president at the Washington nonprofit Achieve who is overseeing the development of the Next Generation Science Standards. “Ninety-five percent of performance expectations have been changed since May in some way. ... That’s the result of tons of really quality feedback.”

A three-week public-comment period closes Jan. 29, with organizers saying a final set of standards will be ready in March. Twenty-six states are “lead state partners” in crafting the standards. Although they are not bound to adopt them, all have pledged to give “serious consideration” to doing so. Organizers say other states have also signaled an interest in signing on.

An eight-page summary document issued with the standards highlights the main strands of feedback since May and key changes, organizing critiques into 10 themes. They include concern that there was too much material covered, suggestions for inclusion of still more topics, a perceived lack of clarity in the performance expectations, and complaints about a lack of specificity in making connections to standards in other subjects.

‘Necessary and Sufficient’

On content coverage, the summary said this change was helped along by feedback solicited from postsecondary faculty, along with “workforce-readiness experts,” to gauge whether all content included was “necessary and sufficient for student success after high school.”

“Their feedback, together with that from the public draft review, led to a deletion of many performance expectations and a reduction of focus in many areas of science,” the document says.

For example, a high school standard on energy saw rewriting of virtually all its performance expectations, and the total number was cut from eight to seven. A separate standard on “nuclear processes” was eliminated, and instead, that topic was merged into a standard on “matter and its interactions.”

Beyond the 26 states, other partners in shaping the standards include the congressionally chartered National Research Council, which devised a framework to guide the standards, as well as the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Achieve, which was involved in the common-core project in English/language arts and mathematics, is managing the development process.

Karen L. Ostlund, the president of the NSTA, said the new draft represents a “significant step forward in developing exemplary new standards that all states can support.”

Several experts contacted by Education Week said they needed more time to digest the revisions before commenting.

Helen R. Quinn, a professor emeritus of physics at Stanford University who chaired the NRC panel that wrote the framework, said that while she had not yet thoroughly reviewed the new draft, her early impression was upbeat.

“They’ve tightened it a lot since the previous draft. I like the direction it’s moved,” she said. “It’s really been built off the framework.”

The standards target four disciplines: the physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science. Top priorities include promoting depth over breadth; ensuring more coherence in learning across grade levels; and helping students understand the cross-cutting nature of crucial concepts that span scientific disciplines. Another aim is for students to apply their learning through scientific inquiry and the engineering-design process.

A 4th grade standard on energy features five performance expectations, including “construct an argument using evidence about the relationship between the change in motion and the change in energy of an object.” A high school standard on Earth’s systems has 12 performance expectations. One asks students to “apply scientific reasoning to show how empirical evidence from Earth observations and laboratory experiments have been used to develop the current model of Earth’s interior.”

The first draft drew pushback from some commenters about a perceived lack of sufficient attention to certain topics.

“Major themes included requests for more ocean-science context to be used in examples, for computer-science concepts to be added, and for ‘nature of science’ concepts to be made more explicit,” the summary of feedback document says. Many high school teachers lamented that some content normally taught in courses was excluded, such as thermodynamics and nitrogen cycles.

But the feedback document said the standards specify “content and skills required of all students, and are not intended to cover the depth and breadth of content of upper-level science courses.” Also, the new draft added “more context and examples demonstrating potential connections to ocean sciences and computer science,” it says.

Engineering Concerns

One area of debate was the handling of engineering and technology. Most reviewers responded favorably to their inclusion, the feedback document says, though some argued for more engineering content. Another concern was that the first draft had separate performance expectations for engineering. The new version integrates the engineering design “core ideas” into other disciplines.

It also has 11 appendices on issues such as college and career readiness and course mapping in middle and high school.

Mr. Pruitt said of the standards: “Students are going to be required to provide evidence through performance expectations of understanding content. That, in and of itself, is the biggest innovation and shift.”

Peter McLaren, a member of the writing team and the president of the Council of State Science Supervisors, said the standards will pose a “huge” teacher professional-development challenge, but the fact that they will be common across states will lessen the burden.

“If you have a good model in one state, it can be applied to another state,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2013 edition of Education Week as New Science-Standards Draft Incorporates Feedback


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