In the early 1970s, while at Georgia State University, a team of science educators (professors, science education graduate students, and classroom teachers) spent two years developing a comprehensive set of objectives and test items for elementary science, grades K-6 for the Florida Department of Education, called the Florida Elementary Science Assessment Project.
In the year leading up to this, I had been visiting professor at Florida State University, and worked as a writer for the NSF-funded ISCS Project under the direction of Ernest Burkman, and as a researcher for the Florida Assessment Project (FAP), directed by David Redfield. The FAP developed a comprehensive set of science objectives (based on the cognitive psychology theory of Robert Gagne), and corresponding set of performance-based test items.
When I returned to GSU, we submitted a proposal to the Florida Department of Education, and we were funded to develop the objectives and test items for elementary science.
The assessment effort in science in Florida, which was spearheaded by David Redfield at FSU, represented one of the first efforts to develop state-wide objectives and test items, as we say now, science standards. In the two projects mentioned here, we not only wrote the standards, but we also wrote the test items used to “measure” student learning. Redfield’s work became a benchmark in the state assessment movement in the 1970′s, but it wouldn’t be until the 1990s, when the AAAS and NRC developed Project 2061, and the National Science Education Standards, respectively, that Redfield’s earlier work would be seen as national in scope.
The standards, or expression of goals for science teaching has a long history. Here is a something I wrote recently in a previous blog entry.
For over a century, science reform efforts have have been put forth in a variety of ways perhaps beginning with the Committee of Ten report in 1895, which set us on the path of disciplined approach to curriculum. Although progressive ideas were part of reform, for example Dewey’s laboratory school at the University of Chicago, Jackman’s Nature Study Movement (c. 1910), and the Progressive Education Movement (c. 1930s), the traditional school, and its focus on academics and basics dominated educational reform. The goals of science education were articulated through successive NSSE yearbook publications in 1932 (A Program for Science Teaching), 1947 (Science Education and American Schools), and 1960 (Rethinking Science Education); the “golden age” NSF alphabet curriculum projects of the 1960s and 1970s; at the behest of hundreds of national reports starting with the 1983 “A Nation at Risk” claiming that schooling should instill global competitiveness amongst our students; The AAAS Project 2061 benchmarks for science literacy; the 1994 National Science Education Standards; the implementation of state-wide standards and high stakes tests for student, teacher, and school performance accountabiliy; the acceptance by 48 states of common standards in literacy & mathematics; and now the coming of a new generation of science standards.
Does the new framework offer a new set of goals for science education, and do these goals reflect the nature of K-12 science teaching? Although the framework offers “a less is more lesson” by limiting the number of “core ideas” in each of the four content area, the framework is linear, and there is no upfront conviction that science in the real world is interdisciplinary, nor are there examples. True, the framework has a chapter on cross-cutting elements including cross-cutting concepts such as patterns, cause and effect, scale, stability (the science processes of earlier reform efforts). It also discusses the importance of topics in engineering, technology and science, but these ideas are not integrated into the actual framework. They appear as of secondary importance.
The present movement to develop a new generation of science standards can not be reviewed without considering the context of standards and assessment in American schools as it is 2010. Ever since the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted into law, schools and districts (there are 15,000 school districts in the USA), have been held accountable through a process known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Here is the definition you need to keep in mind:
Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is a measurement defined by the United States federal No Child Left Behind Act that allows the U.S. Department of Education to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically according to results on standardized tests.
The law states that the measure of progress will be based on the individual state’s standards. States can develop standardized tests based on their standards, and according to the federal law, by 2014, 100% of students must meet the standards, as measured on the achievement tests. Each state sets a minimum number of objectives that students need to meet to be considered as achieving state standards in that subject area. Schools need to report not only overall student scores, but each sub-group (white, African-American, Hispanic) must also meet AYP, and if each sub-group does not, then the school is considered not meeting AYP.
Up until this year, individual states had their own sets of standards. This will change, however. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have supported the development of Common Core Standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts. The standards were written by Achieve. Thirty-five states have adopted the Common Core Standards. Most of the states adopted these standards earlier this year, just before the Department of Education announced winning states in the Race to the Top Fund competition, which the DOE supported.
There is also a separate funding initiate that will result in national assessments, as described here:
An equally important component of this initiative is the adoption of a common (or comparable) assessment system across the participating states. Supported through $350 million in funding from the ARRA, the Administration held a number of hearings to develop a competition to fund next generation assessment systems aligned to the standards. In the end 26 states formed the PARCC RttT Assessment Consortium. Their approach focused on computer-based “through?course assessments” in each grade, combined with streamlined end of year tests, including performance tasks. A second consortium, the SMARTER Balanced Consortium, brought together 31 states proposing to create adaptive online exams. The exams would be offered twice a year with optional formative assessments throughout the year to provide ongoing feedback to teachers and school leaders.
The march toward common standards and common assessments implies that the new generation of science standards will become part of this movement, and that national assessments in science will be created. To some, this seems to be a great idea. A national set of standards integrated with national science assessments will enable the DOE to compare schools, districts and states. To others, this is the problem.Tags: Common Core Standards, Florida Assessment Project, New Generation of Science Standards