Evidence Based Science Education

This blog will examine research and evidence as it relates to science education and science education issues. It is an attempt to bring together the science of education and the practice of education.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Standards Revision
Where are we? How did we get there? Where are we going?

The revision of Colorado’s Science standards continues to move forward. During the public comment period in May and June the science standards were out for public review for 5 weeks, CDE conducted a nine city tour and we received over 600 individual comments on the first draft of the science standards. The science standards subcommittee looked at every comment and decided whether or not to take action based on that comment. Currently the updated draft of the science standards, along with the draft standards for reading, writing and communicating, math, music, and social studies are being looked at by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at UCLA. They are looking at the horizontal and vertical alignment of the standards both within each discipline and between disciplines. The next draft is expected to be posted for public viewing in Early September.

The revision of the Colorado Model Content Standards was based on several premises. It started with recognition by the Colorado Department of Education that many of our current standards were over 10 years old and that past decade has provided a wealth of research in standards based education. It was also driven by public focus groups convened by the Colorado Department of Education that sent a clear message that Colorado students were lacking many skills that are essential in the 21st century workplace. Ensuring that students develop these 21st century skills was another driving force in revising the standards. It was also realized that there was a disconnect between early childhood education, K-12 education, and higher education in the state. The creation of the Colorado P-20 council moved the conversation forward in aligning these three systems. The Colorado State Legislature took notice of these various trends and studies in passing Senate Bill 212 or the Cap4Kids legislation that provide a legal basis as well as resources for Colorado to revise all of its content standards in 2009 with the goal of integrating 21st century skills, ensuring post secondary workforce readiness, and making the standards fewer, clearer, and higher.

The standards review was undertaken with a look toward the latest research in standards based education. The most common message from the research is that national organizations and states have too many standards which creates the situation that teachers have to pick and choose which are important. Hence the goal of fewer big grade level topics.

In What Works in Schools Robert Marzano finds that the most important school level factor for student success is having a “Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum”. President Bush termed this the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for poor and minority students. One of the goals of the revision of the Colorado Content Standards is to provide a base of rigorous standards in both content and skills that leads to a guaranteed and viable curriculum for every district, school and student in the state, hence the clearer and higher goals of the standards review.
Like good standards based teaching, the process for revising the standards began with the end mind, that every graduate from a Colorado high school should be ready to enter higher education, the workforce, the military, or other options without remediation. These are incorporated into the Colorado description of postsecondary and workforce readiness. This description along with Colorado’s definition for 21st century skills provided the big picture end in mind for the standards revision. The science subcommittee then followed the model from Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe in determining the few essential to know topics specifically for science for every high school graduate. These are:

• Observe, explain, and predict natural phenomena governed by Newton's Laws of Motion acknowledging the limitations of their application to very small or very fast objects.
• Apply an understanding of atomic and molecular structure to explain the properties of matter and predict outcomes of chemical and nuclear reactions.
• Apply an understanding that energy exists in various forms and its transformation and conservation occur in processes that are predictable and measurable.
• Analyze the relationship between structure and function in living systems at a variety of organizational levels.
• Explain and demonstrate how living systems interact with the biotic and abiotic environment.
• Analyze how various organisms grow, develop, and differentiate during their lifetimes based on an interplay between genetics and their environment.
• Explain how biological evolution accounts for the unity and diversity of living organisms.
• Describe and interpret how Earth's geologic history and place in space are relevant to our understanding of the processes that have shaped our planet.
• Evaluate evidence that Earth’s geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere interact as a complex system.
• Describe how humans are dependent on the diversity of resources provided by the Earth and Sun.

From these prepared graduate competencies the committee went on to develop mastery standards at every grade level. The committee used available research such as the National Science Education Standards, Benchmarks for Science Literacy, Atlas of Science Literacy, Systems for States Science Assessment, and Taking Science to School as well as their own professional experience and judgment to determine a sequence of learning outcomes that build toward each of the prepared graduate competencies. These mastery level standards are written with the RtI model in mind, that 80% of students should achieve mastery at the specified grade level without intervention. The committee was conscientious about how much time teachers at various levels have to teach science and made a concerted effort not to overload any grade, again ensuring mastery of the few essential elements.

The science standards committee borrowed extensively from the current Colorado Model Content Standards for Science, with many of the grade level expectations in the draft science standards being identical to those currently in use. Where the draft differs significantly is by cutting down the number of expectations so that teachers can teach topics in more depth, embedding process and skills with the science content so that science skills are taught within the context of science content, and giving greater specificity about what a student should be able to do once they have mastered a topic. The new standards also suggest questions that teachers can use to go deeper into a topic and facilitate discussions in their classroom, as well as examples of applications to society and technology of the standards that teachers can use to help motivate and inspire students about the topic. Another feature was embedding the nature of science into the content standard. The draft standards were also built around many research based teaching practices in science such as the active engagement of students and using an inquiry approach to science.
The State Board of Education will have a public hearing on the draft science standards in November and will vote on adopting them in December.

The Colorado Department of Education is currently working on setting up a system of accountability and support around the new standards to assist districts, schools, and teachers in the implementation process. This system will provide support to all teachers around the state though web portals, webinars, links to resource information, supplemental materials including implementation guides and formative and summative assessment prompts, the sharing of model curriculum and instruction practices, and teacher training. Colorado Department of Education is looking to partner with districts, schools, teachers, and institutions of Higher Education in preparing this system of support looking for model programs and curriculum for the standards that follows the standards based teaching and learning cycle.

Click here to see the new standards template.

I will be available for an on-line chat at ____ to answer questions about the science standards review process.