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Developing National Learning Standards

Jan 10, 2014
Cultivating Science Literacy

By Sarah Kirn, Education Programs Strategist

While there are many opinions on what it means and how to go about it, Americans wholeheartedly agree on the importance of education for our young people and for our country’s future. One strategy that education policy makers employ to try to improve education in the United States is the identification of standards – defined learning outcomes, or performance expectations that students should meet by certain times in their education.

Two unprecedented national efforts have begun rolling out across the country: the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics and English Language Arts and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These are the first national efforts designed to create and increase opportunity for states to collaborate and share best practices on teacher preparation and curriculum development.

In 2012 Anita Bernhardt, then Maine’s State Science and Technology Specialist and currently Coordinator for Standards and Instruction, asked me to serve as one of the Maine educators reviewing the NGSS drafts. Our task was to evaluate the developing standards’ adherence to the Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, a 2010 research report by the National Research Council designed to guide the development of the NGSS with a bold vision of what science education should be.

Participating in the NGSS review process was a great opportunity for me to hear firsthand the reactions of classroom educators and school administrators to the standards and to represent GMRI’s broader perspective as informal educators. The NGSS authors had an enormous task in translating the research-based vision of the Framework into performance expectations for K-12 students. No doubt, the debate about how well they did this, as well as the feasibility and appropriateness of standards, will continue into the future.

As you read these debates, I encourage you to remember that the standards are meant to create common targets, not defined pathways. I know that the explicit intention of the NGSS was not to define curriculum but to define a suite of interdependent practices, knowledge, and ideas that students need to master.

I don’t think we’ll know the impact that the NGSS will have on education until the corresponding assessments are developed, which is an effort still in the planning stages. But whether the standards eventually take hold or not, it’s clear that the transformative ideas of the Framework for K-12 Science Education are solid and are already helping educators re-envision the way we teach science in schools.