Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Report on State Science Standards - my thoughts on state curriculum

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research group, just released a report on "State Science Standards in the US" where they evaluated the state level standards for science classes and curriculum. Only California received an "A" and DC, Mass, Virginia, South Carolina and Indiana received grades of "A-".  Ten states' science standards received "F's" - AK, ID, MT, NE, ND, OK, OR, SD, WI, WY). The site has links to each state's report card and you can also download the entire report. 

The standards were graded based on content and rigor, scientific inquiry and methodology, clarity and specificity and then each subject area: Physical Science, Physics, Chemistry, Earth & Space Science and Life Science.

My home state of Connecticut received a 6/10 or a "C". The report stated that the standards were well written but had some poorly phrased statements, a few scientific errors, and was missing important material. The standards are actually in three different documents for CT - The Core Science Curriculum Framework 2005, The PreK-8 Science Curriculum Standards 2009, and the Core Science Curriculum Framework K-10 2005. State standards don't change rapidly due to bureaucracy and other factors. The report does spell out where the errors and issues are and this will be useful when the state looks at redoing the standards. As you can see, the curriculum standards are really only up until grade 10. That is when students take the standardized state test, called CAPT. After that, there is little emphasis or effort put into curriculum and standards.

I was looking at the specific report card on Physics and had some thoughts about what this group said and what I think about it. There is very little in the state standards for physics. They are only two pages long and in chart form that lists a few topics and the main points to cover. The report did say that the coverage of heat and thermodynamics is "among the best they have seen." The only issue is that we don't have much for resources for teaching those concepts. I use PhET virtual labs to have students explore those topics. They did mention that there is almost nothing from modern physics in the standards. I cover some modern physics topics in my classes.

I've been working on the rewriting the physics curriculum for my district (it's over 12 years old) and I am trying to make sure that the curriculum meets the state standards while allowing teachers to have the freedom to teach it in the way that works best for their students. There are no required labs or projects, but there are a lot of ideas and links to resources and suggested labs and projects. This is what a curriculum and standards should be: a guide for teachers with resources to help them.

The standards should focus on the big ideas and topics, have resources and ideas for teachers, and also have resources on helping teachers not just teach content, but help them teach students the skills they will need to be successful in the future.

In a way, having less detailed standards is good for teachers. It gives us the flexibility to be able to cover topics that are relevant to our students (like the physics of sports) and to have time in the curriculum to do projects and inquiry labs. Standards that are too specific or detailed leave little room for the teacher to do things that are new or to cover other topics. Science does change rapidly with new discoveries and state level standards usually are very slow to change. I agree that certain topics should be listed in the state standards as mandatory, but there needs to be plenty of room and time in the curriculum and standards for teachers to be able to do projects, a variety of labs, address current events science, and work on topics that are more relevant to their specific students.

At the state level, a list of the minimum topics and skills required should be defined. But give teachers the ability to personalize their classes for their students. After all, teachers are the experts in education and their content area.

What do you think about state standards and curriculum?


Resources I use with my Physics classes instead of a textbook

Making School Relevant for Students

Experiments and Exploration are Vital to Science Education

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Resources for Educators

Project Based Learning Resources

10 Important Skills Students Need for the Future

10 Tech Skills Every Student Should Have