New Science Standards From the College Board

By Sean Cavanagh — September 16, 2009 2 min read
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Can’t get enough of all this talk of national or common or multistate standards? The College Board has plenty of new reading material for you.

The New York City-based nonprofit, probably best known for its work sponsoring the SAT, has released its first-ever science standards for college readiness, known as Science Standards for College Success. The 242-page document seeks to outline crucial science knowledge, and how it can be used and broken down into the 6-8 and 9-12 grade spans. College Board officials, who have a major role in the ongoing “Common Core” effort to create college-readiness standards in language arts and math, hope that the science document will serve as a resource for teachers, districts, and states around the country.

The College Board has created similar documents for language arts, math, and statistics. The science document is not meant to serve solely as a suggested academic path toward Advanced Placement courses, which are designed by the College Board, but rather to help students meet the “overarching goal of college readiness,” as the organization puts it. In their introduction to the document, the authors explain that the new standards are “more purposefully targeted than many standards documents because they are deliberately aligned with expectations for entrance into college-level science courses and because they include performance expectations (PEs) that specify how content knowledge is to be used and developed through reasoning and in problem-solving.” Performance expectations describe how students should “use and build their science knowledge to accomplish a goal or task,” the document states.

The standards, which have been in the works since 2006, were constructed with the advice of a committee made up of middle and high school teachers, college subject-matter experts, testing gurus, teacher education faculty, and others with knowledge of science learning and standards-building.

When I recently interviewed Francis Eberle, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, I asked him for his thoughts on the College Board document. While he had not studied it closely, Eberle said that the basic structure of the document looked similar to some of the more prominent science standards out there—by which he meant that it seemed primarily organized around particular disciplines, such as earth science, physical science, chemistry, and so on. Another way to organize science standards, which has received some attention in recent years, is around core ideas, like the nature of matter, or evolution. (The College Board document does have a specific section called “Unifying Concepts,” which include evolution, matter and energy, scientific models, and other topics.) To the extent that the College Board document encourages students’ girding themselves for college-level science early in K-12, Eberle said that’s a good thing.

“We really need to think about standards in terms of a pre-K through 16 system,” Eberle told me. Yet he also suggested that as K-12 systems look to retool their science standards, higher education institutions, if they really want to retain more students in science studies, need to re-examine their teaching methods and curricula, too.

“The assumption is that what’s done in college is correct,” Eberle said. “I think that’s an open question.”

Photo of Huntsville, Ala., student by Dave Martin for EdWeek

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.