Do Higher Science Standards Lead to Higher Achievement?

In a recent article in Scientific American, it was suggested that the U.S. should adopt higher standards in science, and that all 50 states should adopt them.

When you check the literature on science standards, the main reason for aiming for higher standards (raising the bar) is because in the “Olympics” of international academic test taking, the U.S. never takes home the gold.  In fact, according the tests results reported by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), U.S. students never score high enough to even merit a bronze medal.  In the last PISA Science Olympics, Shanghai-China (population 23 million) took home the Gold, Finland (population 5.4 million) the Silver, and Hong Kong-China (population 7 million, the Bronze.  The United States (population 314 million) average score positioned them 22nd on the leaderboard of 65 countries that participated in the PISA 2009 testing.

Some would argue that comparing scores across countries that vary so much in population, ethnic groups, poverty, health care, and housing is not a valid enterprise.  We’ll take that into consideration as we explore the relationship of standards to student achievement.

Its assumed that there is a connection or correlation between the quality of the standards in a particular discipline such as science, and the achievement levels of students as measured by tests.  So the argument is promoted that because U.S. students score near the bottom of the top third of countries that took the PISA test in 2009, then the U.S. science education standards need to be ramped up.  If we ramp up the standards, that is to say, make them more rigorous and at a higher level, then we should see a movement upwards for U.S. students on future PISA tests.  It seems like a reasonable assumption, and one that has driven the U.S. education system toward a single set of standards in mathematics and reading/language arts (Common Core State Standards-CCSS), and very soon, there will be a single set of science standards.

There is a real problem here

There is no research to support the contention that higher standards mean higher student achievement.  In fact there are very few facts to show that standards make a difference in student achievement.  It could be that standards, per se, act as barriers to learning, not bridges to the world of science.

Barriers to Learning

I’ve reported on this blog research published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching by professor Carolyn Wallace of Indiana State University that indicates that the science standards in Georgia actually present barriers to teaching and learning. Wallace analyzed the effects of authoritarian standards language on science  classroom teaching.  She argues that curriculum standards based on a content and product model of education are “incongruent” with research in science education, cognitive psychology, language use, and science as inquiry.  The Next Generation Science Standards is based on a content and product model of teaching, and in fact, has not deviated from the earlier National Science Education Standards.

Over the past three decades, researchers from around the world have shown that students prior knowledge and the context of how science is learned are significant factors in helping students learn science.  Instead of starting with the prior experiences and interests of students, the standards are used to determine what students learn.  Even the standards in the NGSS, or the CCSS are lists of objectives defining a body of knowledge to be learned by all learners.  As Wallace shows, its the individuals in charge of curriculum (read standards) that determine the lists of standards to be learned. Science content to be learned exists without a context, and without any knowledge of the students who are required to master this stuff, and teachers who plan and carry out the instruction.

An important point that Wallace highlights is that teachers (and students) are recipients of the standards, rather than having been a part of the process in creating the standards. By and large teachers are nonparticipants in the design and writing of standards. But more importantly, teachers were not part of the decision to use standards to drive school science, in the first place. That was done by élite groups of scientists, consultants, and educators.

The Brown Center Report

According to the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, the Common Core State Standards will have little to no effect on student achievement. Author Tom Loveless explains that neither the quality nor the rigor of state standards is related to state NAEP scores. Loveless suggests that if there was an effect, we would have seen it since all states had standards since 2003.

For example in the Brown Center study, it was reported (in a separate 2009 study by Whitehurst), that there was no correlation of NAEP scores with the quality ratings of state standards. Whitehurst studied scores from 2000 to 2007, and found that NAEP scores did not depend upon the “quality of the standards,” and he reported that this was true for both white and black students (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p.9). The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.

The higher a “cut score” that a state established for difficulty of performance can be used to define the rigor or expectations of standards. One would expect that over time, achievement scores in states that have more rigorous and higher expectations, would trend upwards. The Brown study reported it this way:

States with higher, more rigorous cut points did not have stronger NAEP scores than states with less rigorous cut points.

The researchers found that it did not matter if states raised the bar, or lowered the bar on NAEP scores. The only positive and significant correlations reported between raising and lowering the bar were in 4th grade math and reading. One can not decide causality using simple correlations, but we can say there is some relationship here.

When researchers looked at facts to find out if standardization would cut the variation of scores between states, they found that the variation was relatively small compared to looking at the variation within states. The researchers put it this way (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p. 12): The findings are clear.

Most variation on NAEP occurs within states not between them. The variation within states is four to five times larger than the variation between states.

According to the Brown Report, the Common Core will have very little impact on national achievement (Brown Report, p. 12).  There is no reason to believe that won’t be true for science.

The researchers concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core. In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.” Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards. And he says that they use it too often. In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area. Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.

Loveless also makes a strong point when he says the entire system of education is “teeming with variation.” To think that creating a set of common core standards will cut this variation between states or within a state simply will not succeed. As he puts it, the common core (a kind of intended curriculum) sits on top of the implemented and achieved curriculum. The implemented curriculum is what teachers do with their students day-to-day. It is full of variation within a school. Two biology teachers in the same school will get very different results for a lot of different factors. But as far as the state is concerned, the achieved curriculum is all that matters. The state uses high-stakes tests to decide whether schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Now What?

If standards do not result in improved learning as measured by achievement tests, what should we be doing to improve schools?

Over on Anthony Cody’s blog on Education Week, we might find some answers to this question.  Cody has begun a series of dialogs with the Gates Foundation on educational reform by bringing together discussions between opposing views to uncover some common ground. Cody has already broken new ground because the Gates Foundation is not only participating with him on his website, but Gates is publishing everything on their own site: Impatient Optimists blog. Three of the five dialog posts have been written, and it is the third one written by Anthony Cody that I want to bring in here.

In his post, Can Schools Defeat Poverty by Ignoring it?, Cody reminds us that the U.S. Department of Education (through the Race to the Top and NCLB Flexibility Requests) is unwavering in its promotion of data-driven education, using student test scores to rate and evaluate teachers and administrators.  Cody believes that the Gates Foundation has used its political influence to support this.  There is also an alliance between the ED, and PARCC which is developing assessments to be aligned to the Common Core Standards.  The Gates Foundation is a financial contributor to Achieve, which oversees the Common Core State Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, and PARCC.

There is a “no excuses” attitude suggesting that students from impoverished backgrounds should do just as well as students from enriched communities.  The idea here is that teachers make the difference in student learning, and if this is true, then it is the “quality” of the teacher that will decide whether students do well on academic tests.

Anthony Cody says this is a huge error.  In his post, he says, and later in the post uses research to tell us:

In the US, the linchpin for education is not teacher effectiveness or data-driven management systems. It is the effects of poverty and racial isolation on our children.

As he points out, teachers account for only 20% of the variance in student test scores.  More than 60% of score variance on achievement tests correlates to out-of-school factors.  Out-of-school factors vary a great deal.  However, as Cody points out, the impact of violence, health, housing, and child development in poverty are factors that far out weigh the effect of teacher on a test given in the spring to students whose attendance is attendance, interest, and acceptance is poor.

In the Scientific American article I referenced at the beginning of this post, the author cites research from the Fordham Foundation that scores most state science standards as poor to mediocre.  We debunked the Fordham “research” here, and showed that its research method was unreliable, and invalid.  Unfortunately, various groups, even Scientific American, accept Fordham’s findings, and use in articles and papers as if it a valid assessment of science education standards.  It is not.

It’s not that we don’t have adequate science standards.  It’s that if we ignore the most important and significant factors that affect the life of students in and out of school, then standards of any quality won’t make a difference.

What is your view on the effect of changing the science standards on student achievement.  Are we heading in the wrong direction?  If so, which way should we go?


Anthony Cody: Dialogue With the Gates Foundation: How Do We Build the Teaching Profession?

Guest Post by Anthony Cody

Note: This is the first of five posts on the dialog between Anthony Cody and his readers, and the Gates Foundation.  This post was originally published on Anthony’s site over on Education Week Teacher.  This dialog is a major contribution to educational reform.  Anthony Cody is one of the leading voices in America questioning the nature of present day reform.  One of the major players in nearly every aspect of the current authoritarian and standards-based reform is the Gates Foundation.

Anthony Cody spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high needs middle school. He is National Board certified, and now leads workshops with teachers focused on Project Based Learning. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody’s work, visit his Web site, Teachers Lead. Or follow him on Twitter.

Two weeks ago I traveled to Seattle and spent most of the day meeting with leaders of the Gates Foundation, discussing their work around education reform. I have been critical of the impact their agenda has had, but they expressed an interest in opening up a dialogue. This blog post will be the first in a series of exchanges that will explore some of the key issues in education. We plan a process where we will take turns posting our perspective on a given theme, followed by a response from the other party. All posts will be carried here, and at the Gates Foundation’sImpatient Optimists blog. We will ask everyone to join in a lively discussion. The education reform debate has deteriorated at times—our goal is to engage in a constructive conversation, to turn down the heat, and to seek a bit more light.

In the weeks to come we will get into some nitty gritty issues, such as what it means to “measure” teacher effectiveness? What is the role of poverty in relationship to education reform? What is the purpose of a k-12 education? And what role should the drive for profit play in our schools? But as our starting point, we are going to take a narrower focus, and tackle something a bit more concrete. This first exchange will focus on these questions: How can educators create a strong professional culture in our schools? How do we build the teaching profession?

The Gates Foundation has presented effective teaching as the focus of its education work for the past few years. Unfortunately much of the reform work of the past few years has focused on the negative side of the teacher-effectiveness equation. Reports like “The Widget Effect” have built up the idea that American schools are places where nobody is ever fired. Films like “Waiting for Superman” have reinforced the concept that due process for teachers means we have “jobs for life.” The Gates Foundation, I believe, has actively promoted these ideas, and in 2010, Bill Gates stated on Oprah that if we could get rid of bad teachers, “our schools would shoot from the bottom of these (international) rankings to the top.”

But there seems to be a growing awareness that real growth will not come from this strategy of rooting out the bottom 5 percent of performers. We will need to do some heavy lifting to reverse some of the counterproductive work that has been done to advance that agenda—but we will save that for another post. For this discussion, I want to explore what a healthy collaborative culture looks like, and how it relates to teacher evaluation.

Let’s take a look at the best model of collaboration I have seen in recent years, the teachers at New Highland Academy in East Oakland. This team of teachers worked with the support of a team at Mills College to engage in thoughtful inquiry into their practice. They met regularly to look at student work and talk about where their students were struggling. When they looked at their students’ work, they saw that while the curriculum they were using was helping the students learn to decode, their comprehension was lagging. They chose a set of strategies to help their students to find meaning in what they read, and worked across the school to try this out.

Here is how teacher leader Aija Simmons explained it:

“The Answers” are what we all problematize. Because what “the answer” is for me in this moment might not be the answer two years from now. So the good thing about inquiry is that I’m constantly understanding that there’s a new question, this is a new group of students, it might work better than the last thing but I’m continuing to probe myself, so that I’m pushing myself to deeper understandings about how my students learn, and I’m coming back to the question. I have had several inquiry projects that I’ve looked at over the course of multiple years, but I use them as professional developments. People have the same question that you have, and as you come together, and you begin to think more and share your ideas of inquiry, and get more tools, we’re moving ourselves forward.

They saw tremendous results. But the biggest lesson was not just the result, but the ownership these teachers had of their own expertise. By engaging in this process, where THEY figured out the big challenge before them, and THEY figured out what to do about it, and how to monitor their students’ learning, they were acting as professionals. The energy you see in these teachers is what happens when you give people autonomy and the time to use it. This energy is destroyed when mandates and models of professional growth are imposed from above.

This sort of research allows teacher to give one another feedback, and reflect on their practice. This feedback and reflection is most productive in a teacher-led collaborative context. It does not NEED to be a part of an evaluative process in order for teachers to learn and grow. Of course, evaluations should recognize and encourage this sort of work. But the most productive collaboration is peer-to-peer, of the sort done by the teachers at New Highland Academy.

When we look at our schools, we have to ask, what does it take to support this kind of innovation?

Confidence in teachers: The principal at this school trusted these teachers to take on this challenge.

Active partners, and a model of inquiry: These teachers were supported by the Mills Teacher Scholars program, which helped them learn how to investigate their practice using the teacher inquiry process. Other models that I have seen work well are Lesson Study and the National Board’s Take One process.

Autonomy and choice. These teachers actively chose the form of inquiry they would pursue, and thoughtfully determined the line of inquiry they would follow.
Stability: This project was led by experienced, expert teachers. This sort of thing will not succeed in a school with high turnover.

Small class sizes. Special funding has kept class sizes small at this high poverty school, which has made this work much more possible.
Time for collaboration: Teachers cannot do this sort of work without dedicated time for collaboration.

This school has been supported by the Quality Education Investment Act, a state funding program developed by the California Teachers Association. These funds allow for smaller class size, and that big essential, time for teachers to meet and reflect together.

This sort of process is destroyed by high-stakes tests and the micromanagement that comes with top-down mandates. It is crucial that teachers at any given site have the autonomy to choose the model of collaborative inquiry that fits their culture and the challenges they face. Every time I have seen extraordinary leadership emerge from a staff it has been when this autonomy was given. And every time I have seen top-down reforms come along, the energy drains away. We will not get this sort of professional culture without trusting and empowering our teachers to behave as true professionals.

Another model of professional growth was a mentoring program I started in Oakland, calledTeamScience. Now entering its fifth year, this project pairs veteran science teachers with novices, in order to boost their effectiveness and retain them. This program has been needed because of the district’s reliance on programs like Teach For America to fill vacancies, epecially in science, math and special education. Unfortunately, research has shown that 57 percent of the people entering TFA do not intend to make teaching their career, and in fact, three years after they start, three fourths of these teachers are gone from our schools. Although we made a dent in the turnover rate, high numbers of these novices continue to rotate through our schools. Providing them with mentors has some short term benefit, in terms of the quality of their instruction. But this investment is lost if these temporary teachers leave, taking their expertise with them.

Recent research on teacher turnover has revealed the high cost of instability:

For each analysis, students taught by teachers in the same grade-level team in the same school did worse in years where turnover rates were higher, compared with years in which there was less teacher turnover.

An increase in teacher turnover by 1 standard deviation corresponded with a decrease in math achievement of 2 percent of a standard deviation; students in grade levels with 100 percent turnover were especially affected, with lower test scores by anywhere from 6 percent to 10 percent of a standard deviation based on the content area.

The negative effect of turnover on student achievement was larger in schools with more low-achieving and black students.

To build the teaching profession we must recruit people who want to make a serious commitment to teaching, then support them with meaningful training. Why not subsidize people who choose to become teachers, and allow them to serve as half-time apprentices alongside excellent mentors? They could use the other half of their time to take courses in child development and pedagogy. Urban teacher residency programs offer models along these lines, but are not well-supported.

Unfortunately the Gates Foundation has been a big supporter of Teach For America in the past. If we are going to build the profession, and sustain solid collaboration at our toughest schools, we need to place a high priority on stability. Any program that encourages people to enter the classroom without a desire to stay beyond two years is a tremendous waste of time and energy.

What about teacher evaluation?

In a post I wrote earlier this year, I tried to create a portrait of what a constructive evaluation process might look like:

A teacher meets with his or her evaluator. They review the professional standards in use, and look for areas in need of growth. Maybe it is a focus on literacy and writing skills. Maybe it is bringing the English learners level of engagement and participation up. They discuss strategies the teacher might try to address these things, and they also discuss the forms of evidence they will look at over the year to see what is happening in this area. Assessment, especially of the classroom-based formative sort, is a powerful tool. How is a teacher assessing his or her students’ abilities? How are they using that information to give feedback and give the student appropriate, challenging work? This is where teachers use genuine assessment grounded in their understanding of their students. When this sort of assessment data is shared with an evaluator, a comprehensive portrait of how this teacher is helping students to grow can emerge.

Once an area of focus has been defined, the teacher and evaluator find some professional development resources that might help as well — maybe a conference to attend, some books that might be read, a grade-level team that might come observe a lesson here and there and offer feedback, a colleague that is expert in this area to go observe. Then over the year, the teacher collects student work samples that provide evidence of learning. They document how they have designed instruction to help students learn, and show where they have provided feedback. The evaluator observes, a few times at random, and a few times by request, to see particular lessons. This evidence would be appropriate to the goal that has been set. It could include some test data, but test data would just be one source of evidence among many.

In Bill Gates’ recent speech in Atlanta, he framed the problem this way:

Developing a great teacher improvement system is truly difficult—because there are no models. The country’s teachers have been working in systems where almost everyone gets a good evaluation—and almost no one gets any feedback. That’s the key point. Our teachers get no feedback—no guidance on how to get better.

I disagree with this dismal appraisal. There is certainly room for improvement in teacher evaluation, but to say there are “no models” whatsoever is wrong. Take a look at the report I worked on several years ago with fellow members of Accomplished California Teachers.The model I described above is in action in the schools of Santa Clara, California.

Another model with which I have some experience is Peer Assistance and Review (PAR). I served for two years as a Consulting Teacher in Oakland’s PAR program. I was tasked with observing and assisting teachers who had received poor evaluations. I was in their classrooms every week, and met often with them, offering feedback and resources to help them improve. I also took notes on what I observed, and in the spring wrote a report which was used as the basis of a recommendation from a joint union/administration committee as to the teacher’s continued status. In most cases, the referred teachers were convinced to leave the system.

I discovered doing this work that, in most cases, my observations matched up with those of the evaluator. However, there were a few occasions where this was not true. Perhaps a personality clash or power struggle had led to an unfair evaluation. In several cases the teacher in question transferred and was successful under a new administrator. The PAR program provides some essential elements that are needed to create a trustworthy evaluation system.

1. An initial check on the quality of the evaluations, which was often very uneven.
2. Another pair of eyes, with expertise, observing a teacher’s practice not just once or twice, but many times.
3. A chance for improvement—specific feedback, resources and time to make changes.

Teachers who are referred to PAR can indeed be terminated if they do not succeed in the program, and the majority of those referred left the system one way or another, although many chose to take early retirement or resign rather than go through the termination process. (The low number of actual terminations is at least part of the reason reports like “The Widget Effect” are so critical of Peer Assistance and Review—but this is deceptive.)

The PAR program gives crucial credibility to the entire evaluation process, as part of a system of due process. If you have chosen teaching as a career, you ought to have a real process before that career is ended by a few years of low VAM scores, or the un-verified opinion of one administrator.

The evaluation system I described from Santa Clara and the PAR program are not new discoveries for the profession, though Mr. Gates is apparently unfamiliar with them. We educators need to elevate and share these effective practices, and create powerful themes for strong evaluations. We need to look at the places where these practices are in place, and share them. I believe we will find these models are undermined, not enhanced, by the use of VAM and other test-driven reforms.

Even as educators move to improve evaluations, we should discard the idea that useful feedback can only come in the context of a high-stakes evaluation. Just as our students learn best when we shift the focus of feedback away from grades, teachers learn best when feedback and reflection is developed in the context of peer-to-peer collaboration, not in the context of them being rated, ranked or categorized in an evaluation system.

So to summarize my views:

We need to pursue the conditions necessary for solid reflective, collaborative cultures at schools. These are dynamic processes that rely on the leadership and inspiration of everyone involved. They require trust to be invested in our school leaders, who in turn need to trust their teachers to engage in this often open-ended work. Constant pressure to raise test scores and top-down mandates destroy this. These external pressures do not add coherence—they subtract it. Teachers need autonomy and time, and they need support, access to partners, the use of strong models of collaboration, and small class sizes so they are not overwhelmed every day. We need to strengthen, not eliminate due process, when we ask teachers to open their classroom practices to one another and reflect honestly about their practice.

[Editors’ Note: The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation helps support coverage of business and innovation in Education Week.]

Update: The Mills Teacher Scholars has just released this video showcasing their work with 90 teachers across the Oakland/Berkeley area.

What do you think about the models of professional growth and evaluation described here? How should we build a strong teaching profession?

NCTQ Study of Assessment in Teacher Preparation Courses Flunks

In May, 2012, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) issued a report entitled: What Teacher Education Programs Teach About K – 12 Assessment.   Anthony Cody mentioned this study in a recent post entitled Payola Policy: NCTQ Prepares its Hit on Schools of Education.

The title intrigued me, so I went over to the NCTQ website, and read and studied the report which is about what education courses teach about assessment.  This post is my review of the NCTQ study, and I hope after you finish reading the post you will realize how bogus reports like these are, especially given the quality of research that professors of education have been doing for decades.  The study reviewed here would never have been published in a reputable journal of research in education, not only in the U.S., but in any other country in the world.   I’ll make it clear in this post why I make this claim.


The National Council on Teacher Quality is conservative think-tank that publishes reports on education that the council claims to be research studies in the field of education.  The subhead for the group on their website is: “A research and policy group working to ensure that every child has an effective teacher.”  The NCTQ has a staff of 18, an advisory group of 36 people, and a 13 member board of directors.   The individuals on these various committees come from the corporate, educational, and consulting worlds.  Some of the organizations represented include: Pearson Publishing, Teach Plus, KIPP Schools, the Hoover Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Core Knowledge, Piton Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Thomas Fordham Foundation, N.F.L Players Association, B & D Consulting, Students First, Abell Foundation, Teach for America, New Schools Venture Fund, and others including a few universities and two public schools.

Many of these groups have worked very hard to denigrate teachers, insist that the Common Core State Standards be adopted by all states, believe that teaching and learning should be data-driven, and that student achievement data on high-stakes tests should be used to make decisions about student, teacher and principal effectiveness, and school success.

The NCTQ publishes reports with titles such as Building Better Teachers, Student Teaching in the Nation, and the most recent one What Prep Programs Teach About Assessment.

According to Anthony Cody’s post, the NCTQ was founded by the Thomas Fordham Institute, a conservative think-tank that publishes non-peer reviewed reports on education, and has an appalling opinion of teacher education institutions. And of course, the Thomas Fordham Foundation has membership on the NCTQ Board of Directors.

I’ve reviewed two reports previously published by the Thomas Fordham Institute.  You can read my reviews of these reports here:

In each report I found the methodology weak, the results misleading, and both reports were published as non-peer reviewed research.  The NCGQ study on assessment in teacher education uses the same methodology as the Fordham studies.  Even with such a poorly designed study and unreliable data, think tanks get away with publishing their works in this fashion, and because of the financial resources, and the identities of their funding agencies, they carry a good deal of clout.  The Fordham Foundation and the NCTQ are two such foundations.

Is teacher education going to take hit?  Probably so.  The NCTQ organization has the resources and the connections to make trouble for university teacher education programs.  There is a movement to hold teacher education institutions accountable for the achievement test scores and gains that their graduates produce in their students once they begin teaching.  As absurd as this sounds, the U.S. Secretary of Education is supportive of such an idea.  Organizations such as NCTQ are on the accountability bandwagon, and carry weight at the the policy level in education.

What Teacher Preparation Programs Teach About K-12 Assessment

This report was released in May, 2012, and according to the preface of the report, it provides information “on the preparation provided to teacher candidates from teacher training programs so that they can fully use assessment data to improve classroom instruction.”  The results reported in the final document were based on reading and analyzing 450 syllabi received from 98 institutions of higher education representing 180 teacher preparation programs.

Why This Study?: The First Disagreement

The purpose of the study was to find out what professors in teacher education are teaching their students about assessment so that when they begin teaching in the classroom they will be able to use assessment data to improve classroom instruction.

To rationalize their study, the NCTQ authors, Julie Greenberg, and Kate Walsh impress upon the reader the importance of assessment in today’s schools, and the need for prospective teachers to know how to use assessment in their future classrooms.  The authors say,

Effective instruction requires that teachers have a well grounded sense of student proficiency in order to make a daunting number of  instructional decisions, such as making snap judgments in the midst of interactions with students, and planning lessons, be they for the next day, the next unit or the entire school year.

The purpose and rationale for this study was not based on previous research, or a review of the literature.  The authors allotted less than one page on “previous research.”  Three references were cited.  One of the references they cited is research done by Black and Wiliam, two of the leading assessment researchers in the field of education.  The authors of the NCTQ study rejected the Black and Wiliam research,which is extensive, published in peer-reviewed journals, and highly cited, BECAUSE the NCTQ researchers said that the research was old (1998), and back then education research had weaker designs, and THEREFORE those studies are suspect.

The researchers fail to tell the reader that Black and Wiliam are leading research proponents of formative assessment as a way to improve instruction and learning and have been publishing research for decades.  Even now. And if they were concerned that the studies were old (>1998), all they have to do is a Google search, or link to Dr. Black’s or Dr.Wiliam’s site for their research on assessment.

Greenberg and Walsh claim that education studies prior to 1998 used weaker designs.  I did my Ph.D. work in the late 1960’s in science education at The Ohio State University, and let me tell you the research designs and methodologies that my colleagues in graduate school, and in the literature used in their research were quite robust, not weak.  The research in education is compelling, and its a testament to the incompetence or bias of Greenberg and Walsh that they couldn’t cite more than three studies.

The rationale of  the NCTQ study is rooted in political and ideological beliefs in schooling rather than one that builds upon previous research.  For example they make this claim:

The evidence for the connection between using data to drive instruction and student performance is emerging, just as the practice of using data is emerging.

There is no previous research cited in their report that helps establish this claim, and help us see how their work is connected to other scholars.  Instead they were cherry picking any research that would support their view, or downplaying or dismissing research that might have questioned their intentions.

Biased Questions?

The researchers were bent on showing that teacher educators weren’t doing the job of teaching their students about assessment.  And they undertook this task with the clarion call that there is new focus on “data driven instruction,” and they cite examples of schools that prove that using data to drive instruction will reduce the achievement gap among low-income and high-income students.  And sure enough, they cite two Broad Prize Winners, Charlotte-Mechklenburg Schools, NC, and Adline Independent Schools, TX as examples. Teachers in these schools, according to Greenberg and Walsh, were trained in using data to drive instruction, and that is what led to such positive test results. And by the way, the Broad Foundation is a major funding source for NCTQ.

But here is the problem.  Instead of trying to document or uncover what is being taught about assessment in teacher preparation programs, the researchers decided what they thought was important and then go and compare what teacher preparation program are doing compared to their own ideas.  The researchers started with three categories of assessment that they thought ought to be included in teacher prep programs.  They identified three categories, which turned into their research questions as follows:

  • How adequately does coursework address Assessment Literacy?
  • How adequately does teacher preparation program coursework address Analytic Skills?
  • How adequately does teacher preparation program coursework address Instructional Decision Making?

You might think this is legitimate.  But it is not really helping with the inquiry.  If the researchers were really interested in making a contribution to the field they would have approached the problem inductively.  That is, they would have worked their way up from the syllabi to generalizations that they could make based on their observations of the syllabi.

The inductive method is a scientific method that educators have used for decades to make generalizations about educational phenomena, such as the types of questions that teachers ask during class.  In this case, data analysis would have been determined by multiple readings (of the syllabi) and interpretations of the raw data.  Because the researchers would be looking for evidence of assessment in the syllabi, they would identify specific parts of the syllabi and label these parts to create categories (e.g. diagnostic methods, formative techniques, using computers to analyse test data, etc.)

The point is that instead of starting with the three categories that the researchers at NCTQ thought should be taught in teacher preparation programs, they could have uncovered what the syllabi reveal about the teaching of assessment, and report that data.  There is more to say about this kind of research, such as teaching the researchers how to code, the use of computer programs to make the task easier, assessing the trustworthiness of the data, and reporting the findings.  We’ll leave that for another day.

According to the authors, and the opionions of their experts in the field, teacher education institutions have not figured out what knowledge a new teacher needs in order to enter a classroom with the ability to use data to improve classroom instruction.  Their review of the literature certainly didn’t lead them to this opinion.  They have no basis for saying this, other than they can, and it supports the basis for their study.

The purpose of their study was to show that teacher preparation program coursework does not adequately prepare students to use assessment methods with K-12 students.  Their study does not shed new light on the teaching of assessment in teacher prep, but it does shed light on how research can be biased from the start by asking questions based on your beliefs and ideologies, rather than research in the field.

The Study Sample: Found Wanting

According to the report, NCTQ obtained course syllabi from 180 teacher education programs in 98 institutions of higher education in 30 states.  Using the open records requests, the reporters used the states’ course syllabi from colleges that first responded to their request.  The “researchers” don’t tell us if they actually contacted any of these institutions, tried to talk with any of the professors, or perhaps visit a few institutions so that they could interview not only professors, but students, and cooperating teachers with whom these institutions worked.  None of this was done.  Or at least it wasn’t stated in the their report.  They got their data by requiring the institutions to hand over their course syllabi.

All of the data is embedded in the course syllabi they received.  I don’t know about you, but course syllabi vary from one course to another.  Some professors create very detailed course syllabi, have well developed websites, use course software such as Blackboard, textbooks, and online data bases.  All of these sources should have been examined if the NCQT researchers wanted get a full picture of these courses.  This was not done.

They only looked at the paper they received.  On the basis of this alone, the data that the researchers used for this report is incomplete.  Syllabi are no doubt inconsistent in design and scope from one institution to the next.  And relying solely on a paper syllabus does the research study an injustice, and makes the analysis and conclusions invalid.

The syllabi they selected had to have the word “assessment” in the course title, or it had to be a methods course, e.g. science methods.  Other syllabi were thrown out, and not analyzed. Somehow, the researchers perused the course syllabi looking for “evidence” or lack of for assessment by reading the objectives, lectures (if they were included in the syllabi), assignments, textbooks and readings.  Whether the researchers actually looked at the texts is unknown.  They said they looked at the publishers’ descriptions of the content of the required texts.  And then they looked for “capstone projects,” such as work samples or portfolios.

The sample that the researchers report in their study does NOT represent teacher preparation institutions in the U.S.  It only represents the 98 institutions that responded to the open records request of NCTQ.  Their “finding” can not be generalized beyond the sample they studied.  I don’t trust the sample that they are basing their findings on.  For one thing, there didn’t seem to be an open two-way exchange between the NCTQ and the universities cited in the report.  How do we know if the syllabi the researchers received is a true record of the course syllabi for these teacher prep institutions.

It’s possible that NCTQ is making decisions for some universities based on one syllabus, and for others using multiple syllabi.  We have no idea, however, because the researchers did not report this in their report.  The universities in the study have been short changed, and even worse have been lumped together in a report that paints a negative picture of teacher preparation programs.

If you take a look online at examples of teacher education programs, you’ll find that if they are graduate level teacher preparation programs leading to a masters degree and certification, there are at least 10 courses that should be examined to evaluate the coursework.  At the undergraduate level, there are as many as 19 courses that should be evaluated.  The researchers at NCTQ failed in giving a real picture of a university’s teacher prep program if they only reviewed a few courses.


The researchers over-laid three rubrics on the course syllabi to find out to what extent professors were teaching (1) assessment literacy (2) analytic skills and (3) instructional decision making.   Assessment literacy meant searching the syllabi for key words including diagnostic, formative and summative.  Analytic skills meant looking for key words such as dissect, describe or display data from assessment.  Instructional decision-making meant looking for evidence that teacher educators helped their students use assessment data to drive instruction.

The rubrics were very simple using a Likert measuring scale from “0” to “4.”  A “0” meant there was no evidence, while a “4” meant the criteria were met at a high degree.  For example to evaluate the syllabi for assessment literacy, the scale used was as follows (you can view all of the rubrics here):

0–There is no or almost no instruction or practice on the various types of assessment (inadequate)

1–Instruction on the various types of assessment is very limited and there is no or almost no practice (slightly adequate)

2–Case 1: The scope of Instruction on the various types of assessment is not comprehensive and practice is very limited to adequate.  OR Case 2: The scope of instruction on the various types of assessment is comprehensive, but practice is very limited or limited.

3–The scope of instruction on various types of assessment is comprehensive and there is adequate practice.

4–The scope of instruction on the various types of assessment is comprehensive, including concepts such as “validity” and “reliability,” and there is adequate practice ( adequate)

The researchers rated each syllabus on three criteria and judged each criteria as inadequate (0)to adequate (4) using the 0 – 4 point scale.  They were then able average scores on the syllabi from each teacher education program.  Presumably either the two researchers did the actual rating, or they hired raters.  Whether they did or not, the researchers failed to provide data on inter-rater reliability.  We have to question the trustworthiness of the data.

As mentioned above, NCTQ started with a biased set of questions, and used these questions to analyze the syllabi of the teacher prep coursework.  On face value, the findings only reflect their own biases and way of assuming how and what teacher prep courses should include about assessment.

In this study, 455 courses were evaluated, anywhere from one to six courses per institution. The only average mentioned was that 2.5 courses per program reference assessment.  This statistic is difficult to believe given our knowledge of teacher education courses.  If they looked at methods courses, the chances are very high that assessment was included in these courses.  I don’t know if these researchers examined course syllabi for internships or student teaching, but all of these experiences would have included assessment strategies as part of the experience.  So you have wonder about the validity of their data.

Results:  Did the Teacher Education Programs Reach the Bar

The results of this study have to be examined cautiously and with reluctance.  In my own opinion, the data that was collected in this study is inadequate to answer the questions posed in the study.  Firstly, the institutions did not directly participate in the study.  There is no evidence that there was any attempt to contact the deans of these colleges, or department heads to ask them to provide additional documentation on their teacher education courses.  Nor is there evidence that the researchers made any attempt to seek out course websites that would have included more details and content of the courses.

It seems to me that the researchers wanted to limit the data, yet make sweeping statements about teacher education programs, and make recommendations based on such an inadequate study.

According to the researchers, “the bar to earn a passing rating in this study was set low.”  They said they did this to give institutions the benefit of the doubt.  Actually, it was a way out for the researchers because they were dealing with very limited data, a few course syllabi from major institutions of higher education, and they were going to use this meager data to make decisions about how assessment was being taught to future teachers.

According to this study only 3% of teacher preparation programs adequately teach the content of assessment in their courses.  But actually all they can say is that in their opinion only 3% of the syllabi they received reflected this value.  And given my critiques, this statistic has no meaning in the reality of teacher prep.

The sample they used in their study was biased from the start.  Why did these universities respond to the open records request?  Why did universities refuse to respond to the open records request?  Did the researchers treat the universities with any respect, and try and open up a dialog on teacher preparation content?

One More Thing

There are quality teacher education programs in the United States.  Linda Darling-Hammond, in her book Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs, documents seven highly successful teacher education programs, and discusses the way in which teacher education has changed to create more clinically based teacher education programs.

The researchers of the NTCQ study are stuck in a 19th-century model of teaching, and simply want to hold accountable teacher education institutions to the principles and practices that teacher education rocketed through years ago.

But at the same time, the NTCQ study cleverly uses percentages and numbers in such a way to convince some that teacher education programs are inadequate, and need to be regulated in ways that satisfy the researchers’ interests.  If you look at their sources of funding, and the names of individuals who sit on their boards, you will see the conservative agenda in action in this organization.

My advice is to call them to task on this study.  Tell them that their study in no ways sheds any light on how assessment is taught in teacher education programs.  The only light that is shed is on their own deficiencies as a research organization.

What do you think about the NTCQ study?  Do think their study is to be taken as a valuable contribution to the literature of teacher education?




Next Generation Science Standards: Old School?

Sometime ago, we argued that there is little evidence that the National Science Education Standards published in 1996 and the Next Generation Science Standards released for public view by Achieve are any different than the content oriented projects of the 1960s.  The disciplines and content areas of science were seen as fundamental in those earlier National Science Foundation funded projects such as PSSC Physics, CBA Chemistry, BSCS Biology, ESCP Earth Science, ISCS, IPS, and to the National Science Education Standards published in the 1996.

Continue reading “Next Generation Science Standards: Old School?”

Next Generation Science Standards: What’s Really Been Achieved?

Note:  This is the second in a series of posts on the Next Generation Science Standards.  You can read the first one here.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are the latest iteration of writing science objectives for the eventual purpose of testing students’ knowledge of science.  The objectives are developed by teams of experts, and rely on either their own domain analysis chart of science, or in this case the Framework for K-12 Science Education developed by another prestigious group of educators and scientists.

The NGSS, although they are presented in an overwhelming and distinctly powerful way on Achieve’s website, when you drill down to the actual standards, you find content statements that are not very different than standards that we’ve seen in the past.

This is what I mean.

A Bit of History

Roots of the Next Generation Science Standards

Note: A good part of this discussion is based on The Art of Teaching Science, Chapter 4. com

Astrolabe, invented by the Greek astron0mer Hipparchus, later improved by Christian and then Muslim scientists.

The roots of science education as it has developed in the United States, and many countries throughout the world, has its origins in the science of the Greeks.  The works of Archimedes, Eratosthenes, and Pythagoras have been carried forward and are a part of what we call modern Western science.  The roots of what we might call modern science education can be traced to the 19th Century in Europe and especially Britain.  At that time, what we know as science was natural philosophy, which emerged from the Greek term philosophy, the love of wisdom. Glen Aikenhead writes

This Greek philosophy radically advanced in Western Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries (after the Renaissance period) with the establishment of natural philosophy, a new knowledge system based on the authority of empirical evidence and imbued with the value of gaining power and dominion over nature. This historical advance is known as the Scientific Revolution

This is where modern science began, and where we find the roots of science education as well.

Committee of Ten. For science education, however, the standards that we use today were initially created to make sure that students would be ready for college (sound familiar).  But the standards I am speaking about were written by The Committee of Ten in 1895!  Of the nine committees that were formed, three dealt with the science curriculum:  (1) physics, astronomy, and chemistry; (2) natural history; and (3) geography. Each committee formulated goals for elementary and secondary science, and described what students should know and learn, and suggested methods of teaching.  Here is what the natural history committee had to say about elementary science:

In the elementary grades, the Natural History Committee recommended and worked out the details for nature study not less than two periods per week for all grades up to high school. The first purpose of nature study is not knowledge of plants and animals, but to interest children in nature. The second purpose was to develop students’ ability to observe, compare, and express ideas (in contemporary terms, the processes of science); to cause children to form habits (habits of mind in today’s language) of careful investigation and of making clear statements of their observations. Acquisition of knowledge was the third purpose. So interest, science process and content acquisition formed the goals of nature study.  Interestingly, the committee recommended that no book be used in nature study.  Students should be observing and discussing plants and animals in the classroom or out in nature.

In the early part of the 20th Century, the nature study movement, an interdisciplinary approach to elementary science teaching, the progressive education movement, and important NSSE Yearbooks published in 1932 and 1946, and 1959, identified goals of science teaching that ought to guide the teaching of K – 12 science during those periods in science education history.

In 1957, the launch of Sputnik accelerated a movement to “modernize” science teaching.  The Golden Age of Science Education emerged with the development of NSF funded alphabet science curriculum projects, including PSSC Physcis, Chem Study, BSCS Biology, Earth Science Curriculum Project, AAAS Elementary Science, and Elementary Science Study.  These projects greatly influenced science education in the U.S., especially traditional textbook publishers by upgrading their texts and resources based on the NSF projects developed during this period.

The Florida Project

In 1972 I was invited to Florida State University to be a writer for the NSF project, the Intermediate Science Curriculum Project (ISCP), and to work on the Florida Assessment Project, a research and development project.

The task of the Florida Assessment was to write standards and assessment items for middle and high school science for Florida’s initial attempt to develop state-wide standards in science.  When I returned to Georgia State University, a team of colleagues and I submitted a proposal to the Florida Department of Education to write the K-6 Elementary Science standards (we called them objectives way back then), and test items.

We used Robert Gagne’s cognitive theory of learning which modeled a 7 stage hierarchy of learning.  We used it to categorize the standards into the 7 levels of learning. Working with high school and middle school science teachers, and doctoral students in science education, our team created a domain chart of the disciplines of science: Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, and Life Science.  The domain chart and the Gagne categories guided our work.  For each standard or objective we wrote two assessment items.

Individualized Science Instructional System

From 1974 – 1978, I was a writer, and field test coordinator of the NSF project entitled the Individualized Science Instructional System (ISIS), which was a high school science program designed to develop nearly 60 modules of science teaching for grades 9 – 12.  In this project, objectives for the entire project were written and field tested (parents, school administrators and teachers were involved).  Objectives were grouped by content, and were assigned to an author (high school teachers and university professors) to write one ISIS Module, or a mini-course.

The Global Thinking Project

In the 1990s I worked with science teachers in the U.S. and Russia, and together we wrote and field-tested the Global Thinking Project, which was an environmental science curriculum designed for middle and high school students.  We created a telecommunications network by bringing Macintosh computers, printers and models to Russia and set them up in schools around the country.  The curriculum included objectives or standards, and each of the “projects” was designed for students to investigate an important local environmental problem, use scientific tools to collect data, as needed, and the GTP network to upload data and collaborate with peers in other countries (Spain, Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, Scotland, Brazil joined the project soon after it was up and running.

NSES and State-Wide Science Standards

In 1996, the National Science Education Standards were published ushering in a new era in standards-based education and then a few years later, high-stakes testing.  The NSES were developed in the same manner as the NGSS, and countless state-wide standards and assessments around the country.

The NSES project was primarily based on Science for All Americans as part of Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  Soon after, AAAS released its Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy, and then the two-volume work entitled The Atlas of Science Literacy.

The Next Generation Science Standards comes after a long line of projects, all of which wrote curriculum, standards and objectives, and assessment materials.

Achieving the Next Generation Science Standards

Why New Standards?

In a e-Book published on this blog on the science standards movement, we argued that much of the movement to produce new standards is driven by the perception that American students don’t perform well on international tests, and on the NAEP science achievement tests.

But one can also make the argument that American students actually perform consistently and very well on these tests and have actually improved over the years.  In fact the results from the 2011 NAEP Science Assessment show that:

The average eighth-grade science score increased from 150 in 2009 to 152 in 2011. The percentages of students performing at or above the Basic and Proficient levels were higher in 2011 than in 2009. There was no significant change from 2009 to 2011 in the percentage of students at the Advanced level.

Achieve, Inc., the organization that will stand to benefit financially from the standards movement, makes it very clear that we need new standards to help improve America’s competitive edge, to boost the lagging achievement of U.S. students, to make sure students have the essential education for all careers in the modern workforce, to improve the literacy of Americans.  They fail to cite data that shows that a nation’s competitive edge is too complicated to even claim that student test scores have anything to do with; that NAEP data shows that American students have improved in science for a long time.

In whose interests is it to develop these new standards?  Try: Achieve, publishers, especially of online courses and texts, testing companies.

Who Wrote the NGSS?

According to Achieve, Inc., the writing team consisted of 41 members from 26 states.  To make sure that there is a connection between NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Education and the NGSS, chairs of the NRC’s design teams were selected as chairs of the NGSS writing team committees.  Here is the breakdown of the writing team by field of expertise.  There are 14 teachers on the writing team, representing one-third of the writing team.  There are 12 curriculum & instruction specialists (29%), and 15 Non-K-12 educators (35%).  The panel is a distinguished group with links to their bios. But I found that one of the member identified as a high school teacher, is not teaching.  There certainly were many teachers in U.S. who would have been qualified to replace this team member.  I also note that the science education professors on the writing team do not represent a new cadre of science education professors that might bring fresh and novel ideas to the panel. Is having these individuals as chairs of the writing committees a good idea? I don’t really know. Just thinking.

I would like to know more about the process of actually writing the standards that appear online.  How were the teachers involved?  Did they participate directly in writing drafts, or did they review drafts written by others?  How did Achieve, Inc., interface with the writing team?  Did Achieve provide it own human resources to to the effort, and in what ways?

Writing Team Fields of Expertise Number of Members Percentage

Non-K-12 Educators

University Professors 10 24%
Science Education Consultants 2 4%
CEO/Private Corporations 3 7%
Non-K-12 Educators 15 35%

Curriculum Specialists

Curriculum Directors – Instructional Specialists 12 29%

K – 12 Teachers

Elementary Teachers 4 9%
Middle School Teachers 5 12%
High School Teachers 5 12%
Total Teachers 14 33%

Table 1. NGSS Writing Team Members by Expertise Area

The Nature of the Standards

The NGSS are organized like standards from the past, into content domains including: (if you click on any of these links it will bring to the NGSS for that content area.)

As you can see the standards are organized into four distinct disciplines or core areas.  If you click on any of the categories within the main content areas, you will then be at the level where you can read the standards, and also the information from the Framework for K-12 Science Education that was used to write the performance expectations.  Three columns of information are arranged to highlight these ideas:  science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts.

Middle School Earth Space Science Performance Expectations

I’ve chosen the Middle School Earth Space Science (ESS) performance objectives as representative of the NGSS to evaluate.  There are Earth Space Science performance expectations at each grade level (K-HS).  Here is the complete list of Earth Space Sciences major categories extracted from the NGSS website here:

Table 2.  NGSS Earth Space Science Performance Expectation Categories for the Earth Space Sciences Domain.  Note: The links are live.
All of the topics that included in this list have been included in the previous standards iterations, including the NSES, our work on the Florida Assessment Project, the NAEP Science.  What strikes me is the linearity of the structure of the NGSS.  We have a list of topics, but there is attempt to show the content schematically perhaps using a tool such as Mindmeister where webs can be created to show how ideas interconnect and relate to one another.
Writing a set of texts for Earth and Space Science would be quite straight forward.  Give each writer a subset of the performance expectations, and assign them the task of writing a unit or mini-book of activities, projects, content, interactions that are true to the four or five standards for the topic.  When authors for the NSF curriculum project ISIS were assigned to write a content module, they were given a set of performance expectations, and told, turn these into interacting activities and content.
But in my own view, one of the major uses of the NGSS will be to create assessments that will be used to continue the madness of high-stages testing. By writing the standards as behavioral statements, it will be very easy for test construction engineers to push out lots of pineapple type questions.

Each standard is written in the form of a behavioral objective.  A good behavioral objective ought to be a statement of what students are expected to do, learn or know.  The NGSS uses the term performance expectation to define its standards, and it seems to me that this is the definition of a behavioral objective, an ideas that was at its height in the 1970s.

Inside a NGSS Standard

I’ll give you two examples from the NGSS from the Earth and Space Sciences.  This is a performance expectation from the history of the earth (MS.ESS-HE or Middle School.Earth Space Science-History of Earth):

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Construct explanations for patterns in geologic evidence to determine the relative ages of a sequence of events that have occurred in Earth’s past
  • Use models of the geologic time scale in order to organize major events in Earth’s history.

Each standard included the three dimensions that NRC and Achieve describe as a vision of what it means to be proficient in science.  The blue part of the standard are meant to be the science and engineering practices—-what scientists and engineers do—construct explanations, use models, use empirical evidence, etc.  This is the “action” part of the standard, and it is designed to make assessment of the standard straight forward.  The orange part of the standard is the disciplinary core idea (the content), and the underlined part of the standard is the crosscutting concept, ideas that have application across content area such as patterns, similarity, and diversity, cause and effect, scale, and so forth.

So the Earth Space Science domain of the NGSS has 17 categories or topics as shown in Table 2.  Generally speaking there are four objectives per topic, so in all the NGSS has about 103 Earth Space Sciences standards.  We might estimate that there are slightly more than 400 science standards in the NGSS.

One can be fooled by the way content is presented on the Web.  The organizers of the NGSS did a very good job of creating a Website that can be navigated fairly easily, and also provide supporting materials.

But, in my own analysis of the standard statements, the scope and sequence of the Earth Space Science section is not new, nor does it appear to based on any structural components that would lead us to think that this concept should be introduced at the elementary level, and this concept at the middle level.

I am also concerned that there are no graphics showing how ideas relate to each other.  Science educators, of all people, should have included graphic organizers and used them to get out of their linear mode of thinking.  There are certainly many examples, and conceptual approaches to do this.  The AAAS Atlas of Literacy would be good bet.

What Can We Expect?

There is no doubt that Achieve, Inc., and its long list of partners and financial supports will charge ahead and ready the draft documents for final presentation and publication next year (at least that’s their plan).  Their long term goal is to have all of the states adopt the NGSS.  There are 26 states that are ‘lead’ partners in this effort, and although they did not have to commit to the standards, there will be great pressure for these states to do.

However there is a serious push-back occurring in the States right now over the Common Core Standards.  School districts across the country are signing petitions refusing to participate in high-stakes tests, which of course are part of standards-based reform effort.

In previous blog posts I have argued using research in the field of science education that science standards present barriers to learning.  According to research published by  Dr. Carolyn S. Wallace,  a professor at the Center for Science Education, Indiana State University, science standards are barriers to teaching and learning in science. In her research, Wallace uncovers evidence that the use of standards by practicing science teachers pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning.  She cites two aspects of authoritarian standards that cause this barrier:

1. The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fits the needs of their students.

2. The standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning processes needed to achieve them.

And then she adds that these two barriers are reinforced by the use of high-stakes testing in the present accountability model of education.  Dr. Wallace’s suggestions are significant with the release of the public draft of the NGSS, and the fact that most likely the 26 states that working as partners with Achieve will adopt the NGSS as their state standards.  If most of the states did this, as was done with the Common Core State Standards in math and English/language arts, we move the country closer to a national curriculum.  But what is worse yet, there are national assessments coming in math and English/language arts, and science.  These will be used to hold all teachers hostage to a set of standards developed by very few practicing teachers.

I agree with Chemtchr’s guest post over at Anthony Cody’s blog, Living in Dialog.  Chemtchr, a high school science teacher and she explains that the NGSS is using reverse engineering to produce a product that will be used for assessment purposes, with very little teacher education.

Then she says this, and we need to take heed to her insights:

I’m not willing to pretend this is a genteel dispute among contrary theorists of education progress. The “partners” in the Common Core development include many of our largest and most powerful corporations, several with long histories of fierce monopolistic battles. Pearson Education is one partner, and the Gates Foundation is functioning as a tax-exempt advocacy arm for Microsoft itself.

Through ignorance, arrogance, or the narrowness of their self-interest, politically connected corporatists are about to perpetrate a massive for-profit take-over of science education that will do long-term damage to the very foundation of our scientific and technical infrastructure, while they devour our local and state education tax money.

If you advocate or support the development of a vibrant information technology industry, and a scientifically capable people who can actually contribute to the health and welfare of society as a whole, join us educators in our struggle to stop this huge, backwards-engineered insider deal.

What is your take on the Next Generation Science Standards?  Are they going to impact science teaching so that we’ll be more competitive, and students achievement scores will soar?