Friday, November 11, 2011

By Any Given Standard

It’s tough to engage in conversation about education without bringing up “standards.”  Standards documents mean different things to different people in different locations, and the recent move to put more emphasis on national benchmarks is one that will help to level the playing field in a number of content areas.  But, at least according to standards writers, not all content areas are created equal.

Take the recent creation of the Common Core State Standards.  This tremendous initiative brought forth English Language Arts and Mathematics standards that have been adopted by close to our entire nation.  Students, teachers, and community members now have common documents to utilize to map student progress.  While some states may utilize these documents in slightly different ways, the message is clear: a third grade in one part of the country should be able to exhibit the same skills as a third grader somewhere else. 

Science educators, being the analysts that we are, realized that there would be no better time to push for new national science standards than when education professionals were seeing the benefits (and challenges) of the Common Core State Standards.  So, over the course of the last year, new science standards have begun to take shape.  Last July a framework for standards creation was released, and standards are currently being penned.  While only twenty or so states have signed on so far, this initiative has the potential to be “game changing.”  While it is too early to speculate on what the actual standards will “say” (the first public draft should be released sometime this winter. . .see the “current” timeline below) the new national science standards will contain three “main” parts:
  • Core Ideas: The content piece, but with fewer main ideas in more detail (depth over breadth)
  •  Scientific and Engineering Practices: A set of skills that when combined with the core ideas will allow teachers and curriculum designers to put together excellent performance expectations.  And yes, you read correctly, Engineering will be a part of these new standards, occupying a scientific pillar alongside Life, Physical, and Earth and Space Science (engineers rejoice)!
  • Crosscutting Concepts: In an effort to help users further see the benefit of interdisciplinary exploration, the standards will focus on themes that can help educators “connect the dots” from one discipline to another.

Sounds good, right?  Of course, the proof will be in the pudding.  The last set of national science standards was released in 1996, and since then, much, both educationally and scientifically, has changed.  I, for one, am excited to see what transpires.

(This timeline shows what current standard writers assume will happen between this past summer and next fall.    Image property of Achieve, Inc. and taken from

On a less positive note, that seems to be all that is in the works for national standards development (or at least that is currently known to the public).  Social Studies?  Art?  Music?  Health?  Are they any less worthy?  Not even close.  Of course, with the continued push for, and emphasis on, strict Mathematics and English Language Arts testing, it isn’t really a surprise that these content areas are the “focus.”  Still, in all fairness, if we expect our students to have a well-rounded education, then it only makes sense for us to devote just as much time to those content areas that haven’t yet had a strong “push.”

Finally, since a portion of the work I do  involves using my content and policy knowledge to keep districts up-to-date with science education happenings, I've had the opportunity to share a number of presentations on this topic with curriculum leaders in my region.  If you're interested, let me know and I'll be happy to share.

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