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Education Groups Support Upping Science Standards

Education organizations are rallying behind a report released Tuesday by the National Research Council that provides a foundation for the writing of a common set of expectations for K-12 students in science.

This study was the first of a two-part initiative developed by Carnegie Corp. and the Institute for Advanced Study, which previously issued a report, "The Opportunity Equation," calling for a common set of standards for all states. The second part is the development of a next generation of science standards based on the framework by Achieve Inc., a nonprofit education reform organization headquartered in Washington, DC that helps states raise academic standards.

The document, "A Framework for K-12 Science Education," which was created by the Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards, says all students by the end of high school should:

  • Possess enough knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues;
  • Be careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives;
  • Be able to continue to learn about science outside school;
  • Have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including careers in science, engineering, and technology; and
  • Have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science;

"Currently, K-12 science education in the United States fails to achieve these outcomes, in part because it is not organized systematically across multiple years of school, emphasizes discrete facts with a focus on breadth over depth, and does not provide students with engaging opportunities to experience how science is actually done. The framework is designed to directly address and overcome these weaknesses," reads the executive summary of the report.

The committee recommended that science education in grades K-12 be built around:

  • Scientific and engineering practices;
  • Crosscutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering through their common application across fields; and
  • Core ideas in physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science.

"The framework represents the first step in a process that should inform state-level decisions and provide a research-grounded basis for improving science teaching and learning across the country. It is intended to guide standards developers, curriculum designers, assessment developers, state and district science administrators, professionals responsible for science teacher education, and science educators working in informal settings," the report's authors indicated.

The Arlington, VA-based National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) issued a statement saying the report's conclusions have potential to bring about change in science education.

"This framework emphasizes the importance of engaging students more deeply in the process of doing science, not just learning content," said NSTA Executive Director Francis Eberle. "NSTA applauds the NRC for its outstanding work on this document and for engaging the science education community during the development process. Much work lies ahead. We look forward to working with Achieve to translate the framework into new science standards that can be supported by all states, and to involve science teachers in the development process."

Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, a program by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to improve science education, said, "The new report, 'A Framework for K-12 Science Education,' can help ensure that all students in the United States have access to high quality education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and are well prepared to pursue a wide range of technical and non-technical careers. It breaks significant new ground by placing a greater emphasis than ever before on the importance of engaging students in science and engineering practices as a way to motivate their interest in these fields. This has long been a challenge for science educators, and the new report offers a road map to achieve that vision."

Roseman added that the framework was successful in creating a starting point for the standards-writing process.

"To accomplish all of the goals of the framework requires leaders at every level who understand the framework and its intent; curriculum, assessment, and professional development resources that support the framework; and teachers who are able to use those resources to help all students make progress in their STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] learning. We welcome the opportunity to work with the NRC and with the larger science education community to develop and test the needed resources and help teachers to use them effectively," she said.

Helen Quinn, committee chairwoman and professor emerita of physics at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Stanford, CA, said the framework offers a blueprint to help develop improvements in science education over many years.

"Currently, science education in the U.S. lacks a common vision of what students should know and be able to do by the end of high school, curricula too often emphasize breadth over depth, and students are rarely given the opportunity to experience how science is actually done. The new framework is designed to address and overcome these weaknesses. It builds on what is known to work best in science education, based on research and classroom experience both in the U.S. and around the world."

The full report can be accessed in PDF form, and an executive summary is also available to the public. Additional details can be found on the NRC's site.

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