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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Education in the United States operates within a complex system. It is difficult to focus on any particular component without considering how it is influenced by and, in turn, influences other parts of the education system. Standards created at the national level began working their way into this multifaceted system starting in the late 1980s. Over time, the standards movement grew to include mathematics, science, and technology standards on content, teaching, assessment, and professional development, as well as standards specifying the support needed from the education system and public. Those standards have been defined in documents published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the National Research Council (NRC), and the International Technology Education Association (ITEA). Now, more than a decade into the standards movement, the key questions concern the impact of those standards. The charge to the Committee that produced this document was to “develop a framework that can be used to understand the influence of science, mathematics, and technology education standards on programs, policies, and practices.” The Committee acknowledged early in its work that a body of research related to education standards is emerging—work that addresses questions of impact on student learning and other aspects of the education system. However, no comprehensive map or conceptual overview has been available to guide the efforts of producers, interpreters, and consumers of that standards-focused research. The Framework
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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education developed in this document is intended to address that need—to provide guidance for the design, conduct, and interpretation of research focused on influences of nationally developed standards on student learning in mathematics, science, and technology. INTRODUCTION Perspectives on Standards To many educators, a “standard” is a statement describing what a person should know or be able to do. That use of “standard” is often called a “content standard.” For many members of the general public and for the education policy community, “standards” focus on outcomes and imply “a mechanism by which to hold schools accountable for what students learn” (Raizen, 1998). In such cases, specific levels of performance relative to standards are defined, and assessments are designed to measure student progress toward attaining those standards. NCTM, NRC, and ITEA “standards” use the word in a broader sense, offering a vision for what is needed to enable all students to become literate in mathematics, science, and technology. Teaching and learning promoted by the mathematics, science, and technology standards represent a departure from common patterns of practice. All three sets of standards affirm the importance of increased expectations, opportunities, and achievement of all students, including groups largely bypassed historically, such as girls and ethnic and language minorities. The standards call on teachers to recognize the rich diversity students bring to classrooms and to provide opportunities for all students to learn. The standards emphasize understanding of basic concepts and “big ideas” in each subject area, acquisition of useful skills, engagement in inquiry-based learning, and coherent articulation of learning opportunities across all grade levels. The standards also call for students to be able to use their knowledge, skills, and understanding to make decisions and participate productively in society,
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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education as well as to solve problems and communicate their thinking and reasoning to others. However, the nationally developed standards deliberately leave specific curricular decisions to state and local officials. The NCTM, NRC, and ITEA standards call for changes not only in what students learn, but also in how that content is taught. According to the standards documents, teachers should have deep understanding of the science, mathematics, and technology content they teach; recognize and address common student preconceptions; design classroom experiences that actively engage students in building their understanding; emphasize the use and application of what is learned; and use assessment as an integral part of instruction. The U.S. Education System While standards provide a vision for teaching and learning, the vision cannot be realized unless the standards permeate the education system. The U.S. education system is large, diverse, and complex, with many layers of governance. States play major roles in funding and regulating education. At the same time, what happens in individual classrooms is affected by decisions made in other layers of this loosely coupled system. Based on research, interactions with practitioners in the field, and personal experiences, the authoring Committee chose three main routes or “channels” to describe paths through which reform ideas might flow to various layers of the system and might eventually influence teaching and learning. As reforms (such as standards) enter the education system, they traverse one or more of these “channels,” and thus may affect policies, programs, and practices within various jurisdictional layers. The three major channels of influence identified by the Committee are: Curriculum, Teacher Development, and Assessment and Accountability. In addition, standards may have an impact on education’s social and political
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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education contexts, perhaps spurring those outside the education system to influence, both directly and indirectly, what happens in classrooms. THE FRAMEWORK Based on this view of the education system and its charge, the Committee identified two overarching questions: How has the system responded to the introduction of nationally developed mathematics, science, and technology standards? and What are the consequences for student learning? The Committee created a Framework to provide guidance in answering these questions. It consists of a conceptual map that identifies the channels through which nationally developed standards may influence teaching practice and subsequently student learning, and a set of guiding questions that can be applied to various policies, programs, and practices within the system and to outside influences that may affect the education system. As configured, the Framework provides conceptual guideposts for those attempting to trace the influence of nationally developed mathematics, science, and technology standards and to gauge the magnitude or direction of that influence on the education system, on teachers and teaching practice, and on student learning. As is true for all models, the system represented in the Framework is greatly simplified. The argument implied by the Framework can be summarized through a group of interrelated propositions: Nationally developed standards in mathematics, science, and technology represent a set of fundamental changes in the way these subjects have traditionally been taught, placing new demands on teachers and students. The expected influence of nationally developed standards on teaching practice and student learning is likely to be (a) indirect, taking place through proximate effects on other parts of the education system; (b) entangled (and sometimes confused) with other
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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education influential forces and conditions, such as broader state standards-based reforms; and (c) slowly realized and long term. Three core channels exist within the education system through which nationally developed standards can influence teaching and learning; these channels of influence are complex, interactive, and differ across subject-matter communities. Variability within the education system implies that students and teachers are likely to experience different influences, depending on locality, resources, participant background, and other factors. The task for research—and hence for this Framework—is to help identify and document significant standards-based effects, as well as overall trends and patterns among those effects. Nationally developed standards will eventually be judged effective if resources, requirements, and practices throughout the system align with the standards and if students in standards-based classrooms demonstrate high achievement in knowledge and skills deemed important. The Framework offers four key questions to guide inquiry into the magnitude and direction of the influence of standards on various parts of the education system: How are nationally developed standards being received and interpreted? The vision expressed in the standards for student learning, teaching practice, and system behavior is conveyed through broadly framed statements, and as a consequence may be interpreted differently by different people. In investigating the influence of standards, it is important to understand how these standards are viewed by particular stakeholders. What actions have been taken? Standards can motivate changes in the system or they may simply be ignored. An important part of tracing the influence of standards is understanding what curriculum developers, teacher educators, assessment designers, and others have done in response to standards.
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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education What has changed as a result? In investigating the influence of standards, it is important to determine what new policies, programs, or practices can be attributed to the influence of standards. In particular, it would be important to know the extent to which K-12 classroom instruction reflects the content and pedagogy emphasized in the national standards documents. Who has been affected and how? Nationally developed mathematics, science, and technology standards explicitly call for reform in policies and practice leading to literacy for all students. Investigating the influence of nationally developed standards requires understanding for whom teaching and learning have changed and how their learning has been affected. CHANNELS OF INFLUENCE The channels set forth in the Framework, through which reform ideas may flow, have different properties and points of interface with classroom practice. Curriculum The influence of nationally developed standards on what students are to learn is filtered through the forces and conditions that define the curriculum and instructional materials in mathematics, science, and technology. What is actually taught in classrooms in the United States is shaped by decisions made at multiple levels—the federal government, states, districts, schools, and individual teachers. Exploring what is taught to whom and why involves addressing the implications of a myriad of policy decisions that affect curriculum and resources to support the curriculum; the development of instructional materials and programs; and the processes and criteria for selecting instructional materials that help determine what students will learn in a particular classroom. Nationally developed standards can influence the formulation and enactment of curriculum by providing a comprehensive picture of what should be taught, stimulating the creation or adoption of
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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education curricular materials that embody the standards’ vision, and giving direction to the various entities that contribute to the development and adoption of instructional materials. If standards are influencing the curriculum channel, state content standards would be increasingly aligned with the national content standards; standards-based K-12 programs would be coordinated systemwide; textbooks would reflect an understanding of the content in the standards; and teachers would have appropriate resources for teaching standards-based lessons. Teacher Development The teacher preparation and development components within the education system provide channels through which nationally developed standards might influence how teachers learn to teach initially and throughout their careers. The policies, practices, and programs at local, state, and federal levels determine investments made in teaching prospective teachers and in molding the ways they continue to develop their skills as classroom teachers. Teachers’ subject matter and pedagogical knowledge are shaped by their initial exposure to mathematics, science, and technology content— and the ways those subjects are taught—prior to and during their formal teacher preparation program and by the requirements for certification and licensure. Teachers’ continuing professional learning may be enhanced or constrained by the setting within which they work and by the opportunities available to them. If nationally developed standards are influencing the preparation of new teachers, states would require and postsecondary institutions would create systems that enable prospective teachers to gain the knowledge and skills needed to help students meet standards-based learning goals. Policies and fiscal investments at local, state, and federal levels would focus on re-certification criteria and ongoing professional development opportunities that align with nationally developed standards in the three subject areas. States
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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education and localities would provide a rich “infrastructure” to support standards-based mathematics, science, and technology teaching. Assessment and Accountability As the standards movement has gained strength across the United States, assessment and accountability, which are two distinct but related concepts, have become linked as a way to realize the standards, and as such constitute a third channel through which reform might flow. Assessments of various kinds provide systematic means of informing students, teachers, parents, the public, and policy makers about student performance. Accountability mechanisms linked to some or all of these assessments provide incentives to change behavior, by using information from assessments to make consequential decisions about students, teachers, schools, or districts. Thus, consideration of assessment involves a careful study of how assessment interacts with accountability; how teachers conduct and use classroom assessment; how states and districts use assessment for accountability; and how assessment influences choices in postsecondary education. Assessment practices are vital components of nationally developed standards, specifying expectations for student knowledge and performance. The development and use of assessments to support instruction, to drive educational improvement, and to support accountability are indicators of possible influences attributable to nationally developed standards. If nationally developed standards are influencing assessment policies and practices, assessments would be aligned with learning outcomes embodied in the standards. Accountability policies would support schools and teachers by providing professional development opportunities, instructional materials, and appropriate resources to enhance their efforts to raise performance levels of their students. CONTEXTUAL FORCES AS A SOURCE OF INFLUENCE Decision-making within the education system is, in large part, a
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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education political process, involving key players such as legislators, government officials, and citizen groups, in addition to educators. Educational concerns may motivate professional organizations, parents, and others to lobby for certain decisions or work toward particular goals. Education policy decisions may also be influenced by media that convey information and shape public perceptions. In addition to exerting influence through the political system, some businesses, education and professional organizations, and others may influence the education system directly, for example, by supporting ongoing teacher professional development efforts. If the standards are influencing individuals and groups external to the education system as intended, decisions enacted by elected officials and policy makers would show support for standards-based reforms. Professional associations in the forefront of the development of national standards for mathematics, science, and technology would lead national and local efforts to implement the standards, as well as work with elected officials and leaders to build a consensus in support of institutionalizing standards-based reforms. On the other hand, standards may generate resistance and opposition by individuals and groups outside the system. In that case, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technology design professionals who disagree with the standards’ vision would work to affect decisions and actions within the education system. Opponents would encourage funding or programmatic decisions regarding curriculum, professional development, and accountability practices that inhibit implementation of the nationally developed standards. USING THE FRAMEWORK The Framework in this document provides a set of organizing categories, presumed relationships among them, and questions to prompt inquiry. The Framework lays out a complex domain of interacting forces and conditions that affect teaching and learning, any number of which can be touched by the influence of standards.
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Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education Thus no single study can investigate the entire domain—that is, all the ways that national standards are, or could be, part of the education reform story. Rather, various types of studies, each guided by its own appropriate methodologies, will be needed to establish the scale and scope of influences, identify routes by which standards actually exert influence, and ascertain the direction and educational consequences of those influences. The Framework is offered as a tool for producers, consumers, and sponsors of research as they consider central questions about the influence of nationally developed standards on mathematics, science, and technology education. It can be used in: (1) situating existing studies within the educational terrain relevant to the standards; (2) providing a conceptual tool for analyzing claims and inferences made by these studies; and (3) generating questions and hypotheses to be explored by future studies through assembling knowledge gained from existing studies and identifying gaps in current research. The Framework should be regarded as an evolving conceptual picture, stimulating different forms of inquiry, and helping to guard against the superficiality that often permeates debate about high-visibility national policies. Public conversations about the worth and impact of standards in mathematics, science, and technology—or about standards-based reforms in general—will continue. The Framework offered here is intended to help the education research community contribute to that debate with reasoned voices based on evidence and sound inference.
Representative terms from entire chapter: