National Science Standards - An Update
James H. Stith
Background: In the spring of 1991, the Board of Directors of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the presidents of several scientific societies, the United States Secretary of Education, the Assistant Director for Education and Human Resources of NSF, and the Co-Chairs of the National Education Goals Panel requested that the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Science take the lead in developing National Science Standards.
In the fall of 1991, Secretary Alexander announced a grant to the NRC to initiate the design and development of the standards. Dr. James D. Ebert, Vice President of the National Academy of Sciences was named Chair of the National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment (NCSESA). The NRC's Coordination Council for Education (CCE) developed timelines, recruited staff, and identified individuals to serve on NCSSESA and the working groups. The Chair's Advisory Committee (CAC), made up of representatives from various professional societies, was formed to provide regular advice to Ebert and to act as liaisons to their respective constituencies. Members of NCSESA and the three working groups (Teaching, Assessment, and Content (previously called Curriculum) were selected from a large pool of qualified persons to provide varied expertise in science disciplines, teaching experiences, scholarly research, and practical experience in schools. For example, approximately one-third of the members of the national committee and working groups are practicing teachers at the level for which the standards are being designed.
In the fall of 1993, Dr. Richard Klausner of NIH replaced Ebert as Chair of NCSESA, and Dr. Angelo Collins of Florida State University was named director of the project. What are science standards? The goal of the three working groups is to write proposed standards which would for the first time link three of the vital functions of education: assessment, content, and teaching. The following excerpts are taken from the charge to each working group: "Science curriculum standards are narrative descriptions of what students should understand and be able to do in science and its applications. These learning outcomes-- what students should understand and be able to do-- are the criteria by which curriculum, learning opportunities, and assessment can be judged..." "Science teaching standards are criteria which will be used to guide the development and/or selection of teaching and learning strategies to achieve curriculum standards. They recommend appropriate alternative approaches which can be used to make qualitative judgments concerning:
- the design or selection of science teaching strategies;
- the development, selection, or adaptation of instructional materials;
- the professional development, preparation, and practice of teachers; and
- the provision of various opportunities to achieve the outcomes described in the curriculum standards."
" Assessment standards are the criteria used for guiding the development and implementation of student assessment and programs evaluations. These standards will establish the qualitative criteria for judging student understanding and competence with regard to curriculum standards. The charge to the working committee on assessment standards is to examine the role of assessment in the science education system and develop standards that will drive the system in productive and socially responsible ways..."
In designing curriculum standards, the goal is not to define specific curricula, syllabi or courses of study. Teaching standards are not intended to be descriptions of the best way to teach or learn. Assessment standards are not intended to produce an actual test.
Of particular interest to the physics, community is the fact that science standards reflect what all students are expected to know at the end of grade 12. They are not designed to reflect the physics, chemistry or biology taught in the traditional high school course. Discipline-specific courses will be able to build better courses based on the knowledge that students bring from their previous K-?? experience.
Additionally, science standards are not a statement of what is, but what can be, reflecting the goals to which the community aspires. Standards that, for example, recognize that the rural student in West Virginia has different background and experiences than the inner-city student in Boston. The goal is to develop science programs with sufficient flexibility that local school districts can each build a curriculum best matched to the experiences of the students involved.
The working principles adopted by NCSESA represent a vision that science should become a central part of the school day. It is crucial that curriculum, teaching, and assessment be treated as integral parts of a whole. Not only, for example, do we need to be concerned about content, but we must assess attitudes as well. Assessing attitudes is difficult, but too important to ignore.
Current status-- In May 1994, the NRC released a Pre-Draft of Standards for review by selected individuals who had been involved in some way with the overall Standards project. This group included the NCSESA Committee, members of each of the working groups, focus groups formed by each member of the Chair's Advisory Committee, and focus groups representing many professional societies having liaisons to the project. Additionally, a group of K-12 teachers, having no prior "direct" contact with the project, were asked to review and comment on the Pre- Draft.
In the area of physics, the AAPT Task Force on National Science Education Standards (Carol-Ann Tripp, Chair) was joined by members of the APS Committee on Education in evaluating the Pre-Draft. Committee members did individual reviews that were then compiled by a smaller group, representing both AAPT and APS, which submitted a final report to NCSESA.
Over 75 groups provided input to NCSESA on the standards. During the summer of '94, the Pre-Draft underwent intense review and restructuring in response to the science community input. It is anticipated that draft standards will be released for extensive public review sometime in late fall 1994 and that the final document will be available in 1995.
The draft will open with a "Call to Arms" building the case for standards, and a "Reader's Guide" which provides suggestions on how to read and use the document. Chapters on System Standards, Program Standards, Teaching, and Professional Development Standards, Assessment Standards, and Content Standards are included. The Standards will be further subdivided by grade levels K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. It should be stressed that the sub-group boundaries are not firm; i.e., standards which are identified as the upper edge of K-4 could as well be identified as the lower range of grades 5-8.
Physics community input is needed! As mentioned above, in late fall of 1994, the draft of "National Science Education standards" will become available for broad evaluation and review by members of the scientific community. The NRC, which expects to print 30,000 copies, hopes for as wide dissemination as possible. The AAPT/APS focus group will again review and evaluate the draft and provide input to NCSESA.
Individual members of the physics community are invited to help broaden the review process by joining with local school systems and other programs to form focus groups. While individual comments are always appreciated, at this stage in the process, NCSESA is anxious to receive input from groups that are representative of as broad a spectrum of those concerned and affected as possible.
You may obtain copies of the Draft by writing to:
National Research Council
2101 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20418
You may also send an e-mail request to: firstname.lastname@example.org. If multiple copies are desired, NRC requests that you send a list of the people to whom you expect to make the distribution. This list should be both in hard copy and on a computer disk.
If National Science Standards are to have a positive impact, they must be supported by administrators, teachers, and parents. It is my belief that the Standards must integrate teaching assessment and content. We must ensure that the document is scientifically correct and that it distinguishes between the essential and the peripheral in the curriculum while reflecting the theory and practice of today's pedagogy. The document should also establish an attainable solid core of common understanding for each student in each science while empowering teachers rather than limiting them. Finally, the entire community should be able to use the document with trust, confidence, understanding, and with ease.
James H. Stith is Professor of Physics at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He was formerly a faculty member at the United States Military Academy, and he served as President of AAPT during 1992.