A new emphasis on science is coming to California schools.
For years, No Child Left Behind has prompted some teachers to drop science instruction in favor of math and English, in the hopes of bringing up standardized test scores to avoid sanctions.
But the state is now poised to adopt new Next Generation Science Standards, which are expected to boost instruction at every grade level and help make students more competitive with those around the world.
“Science instruction is crucial to California’s future, and these new standards will bring the science being taught in our classrooms up to date,” wrote Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a Friday news release. “These standards eliminate arbitrary limits on hands-on experimentation and replace long lists of facts to memorize with a deeper focus on understanding the crosscutting concepts within and across scientific disciplines.”
Torlakson is recommending that the state Board of Education adopt the standards, which come on the heels of recently adopted Common Core Curriculum Standards that are also expected to improve students’ understanding of subjects taught. It has been 15 years since the state adopted its current science standards, which are considered outdated because new advances in science and technology have occurred since then.
The new standards integrate engineering and science to help students better understand the world, providing a foundation of knowledge that builds from kindergarten through 12th grade, along with skills for college and careers.
“The new science standards will help students make connections with other parts of the curriculum, and like our new Common Core State Standards, will provide a chance for all students — no matter where they live or where they happen to go to school — get the world-class science instruction they deserve,” Torlakson wrote.
Experts believe the growth of jobs involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics will continue for the next decade. In the recent past, these jobs have grown three times as fast as those in other fields.
Torlakson, who taught science in the Mount Diablo school district, worked with other teachers, scientists, college professors, education experts and business and industry leaders to develop and review the standards. The state Board of Education expects to begin discussing the standards July 10-11.
The standards are available at www.cde.ca.gov/pd/ca/sc/ngssstandards.asp.
At the Exploratorium’s Teacher Institute in San Francisco, educators are excited about helping to train their colleagues in hands-on science instruction. Ariel Owen, who teaches sixth and seventh-grade science at Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek, said teachers are learning how to bring the kids “underneath the learning process” to dig deep and explore, make changes, write about what they find, talk to each other in small groups, then write more.
“That’s when learning happens — when kids are fully engaged in the process,” she said. “It’s really important that kids be physically and mentally into it.”
Owen, who is a lead teacher at her school and in the Mt. Diablo district, said there has not been a strong focus on science since standardized testing has become so important. In some schools with low test scores, teachers have skipped science instruction entirely to focus on math, she said.
“At least in Mount Diablo, science has been sort of like the evil stepchild because it has been all about: ‘How did we do in math and English language arts?’” she said. “As we move back, I want to do it differently. The district is very receptive to this change.”
Do you think science is as important as math and English language arts?