• Curriculum, instruction, and assessment must be aligned to improve science literacy.

  • Science curriculum should be coordinated with other subjects, especially mathematics.

  • Sufficient resources are required to achieve science literacy, including quality teachers, time, materials, equipment, space, and community.

  • National, state, and local policies must be congruent with and support the science program.

Once one accepts the complex nature of national standards in science education, additional issues require clarification. The following two sections will address these issues:

  1. What is the science curriculum?

  2. What counts as evidence of influence?

The third section of the paper will provide the results of the literature review summarizing the evidence of influence of the NSES on the science curriculum. The paper will end with sections on conclusions and recommendations for research.


The simple term “the science curriculum” has many meanings. A common meaning of curriculum is the set of instructional materials used in teaching science, including textbooks, supplementary readings, multimedia materials, and laboratory exercises. For many teachers, the textbook is the curriculum (Schmidt, 2001a; Weiss, Banilower, McMahon, and Smith, 2001). However, as illustrated in Figure 2-1, the curriculum has multiple dimensions: (1) the intended curriculum, (2) the enacted curriculum, and (3) the assessed curriculum (Porter and Smithson, 2001b).

For the purposes of this study, the author examined the potential influence of the NSES on each of the three curriculum dimensions illustrated in Figure 2-1. This figure, however, is an incomplete illustration of relationships. Other graphical depictions would better emphasize the relative relationship among these curriculum dimensions. For instance, a Venn diagram would illustrate the overlap among these dimensions (see Figure 2-2). There are goals and outcomes in common among the intended curriculum, enacted curriculum, and assessed curriculum or in common among any two of the three dimensions. Also, there are goals and outcomes that are unique to one dimension, such as being part of the assessed curriculum, but not part of the intended or enacted curriculum. Science literacy is the whole of the Venn diagram. Curriculum alignment is achieved as the circles increase in overlap, and science literacy comes more into focus as alignment is achieved. The concentric circle representation in Figure 2-1, however, is useful in discussing the contents of each of the curriculum dimensions.

Science literacy is at the center of Figure 2-1. The purpose of the NSES is to promote science literacy. The NSES document defines science literacy as what all citizens should know and be able to do and provides standards for the educational system to achieve science literacy. The curriculum is a key component in achieving science literacy. Science literacy is a central element of the science curriculum. The morphology of science literacy, however, is transformed from the intended curriculum to the enacted curriculum to the assessed curriculum though the interpretation and actions of educational leaders, parents, teachers, and students.

The intended curriculum is a statement of goals and standards that defines the content to be learned and the structure, sequence, and presentation of that content. The intended curriculum is defined by national guidelines, such as the NSES, by state standards and curriculum frameworks, by local standards and curriculum frameworks, and by publishers of instructional materials. The intended curriculum is interpreted by teachers, administrators, parents, and students to create the enacted curriculum.

The enacted curriculum is the totality of the opportunities to learn experienced by the students. The enacted curriculum differs from the intended curriculum because it is mediated by the teacher, the students, available instructional materials, and the learning environment.

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