Teaching to the Science Standards: Stories from the Classroom

By Rios, Jose M. | Science Educator, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Teaching to the Science Standards: Stories from the Classroom


Rios, Jose M., Science Educator


Results of qualitative research indicate that although teachers do not object to standards-based instruction, they are not receiving sufficient support to align current instructional and assessment practices with published benchmarks.

Research on Science Standards.

Standards and science. The debate has been in the news since the publication of A Nation At Risk in 1983. Researchers have documented the struggles of creating science standards (Kennedy, 1998; Roberts, 2000; Forster & Wallace, 2002), while pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the current movement in science education (Rodriguez, 1997; Guskey, 2001; Hill, 2001). In recent years, there have been articles dealing with teachers' views and practices in planning science instruction (Levitt, 2002), connections between the nature of scientific inquiry and classroom activities (Keys & Bryan, 2002), teachers' struggles with aligning standards-based science curricula with the needs of diverse students (Ruiz-Primo et al., 2002), and ways to involve teachers in science education reform (Weidenmann & Humphrey, 2002). Few studies, however, look at connections between state standards and the actual process of science instruction.

Some of the classroom-based research focus on connections between the nature of science, teachers' beliefs, and classroom practice (Bryan, 1998; Tobin & McRobbie, 1996; Keys & Kang , 2000). Only recently have researchers begun to examine some of the connections between science standards and the realities of public schools (Hayes & Deyble, 2001; Puskin, 2002; Barton & Tobin, 2002). According to Spillane et al. (2001), "Because of the nature and magnitude of the reforms, most teachers struggle to understand their substance and their implications for practice" (p. 918). These struggles have been documented in other states that are working toward aligning curricula with state standards and creating statewide assessments. Unfortunately, there have been few studies focusing on Washington State (LaGuardia et al., 1999).

Background on Washington State

The Washington Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs). In Washington State, the EALRs (Washington State Commission on Student Learning, 1998) have affected the way districts approach the teaching of math, reading, writing, and science. The EALRs represent Washington State's translation of the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) for districts, teachers, students, and parents. Like the National Science Education Standards, these general guidelines are broken down into three categories of benchmarks (K-5, 6-8, and 9-10), which address systems, physical science, Earth and space science, life science, scientific inquiry, problem solving, nature of science, and science/technology/society. These benchmarks are blueprints for developing grade level frameworks that will help teachers and administrators make curricular, instructional, and assessment decisions. Ultimately, the EALRs and benchmarks will help teachers and students prepare for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). The WASL, which is administered in grades 5, 8, and 10, is a criterion-based assessment consisting of multiple choice, short answer, and extended response items. Currently, the WASL examination is in the pilot stages, with voluntary participation from schools and districts. However, the 8th and 10th grade assessments will become operational in 2003-04, while the 5th grade assessment will become operational in 2004-05.

With the WASL's operational deadlines looming, partnerships have formed among K-12 districts, business leaders, universities, and informal science education agencies to assist teachers in making the transition to standards-based science instruction. Some of the work focuses on creating workable frameworks for teachers. These frameworks provide grade level targets in the subdisciplines. …

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