and Learning, Achieve, Inc., the Fordham Foundation, the American Federation of Teachers, and Editorial Projects in Education, which produces the annual Quality Counts reports for Education Week.
In our review, we found that existing state science standards vary widely in organization, format, breadth, and depth. Many standards do not reflect current knowledge of how students learn and develop scientific understanding or the fact that science is a network of mutually supporting ideas and practices that develop cumulatively. Indeed, it is difficult to compare one set of standards to another because they are organized and presented in such different ways. This occurs because, as Archibald (1998, p. 4) notes, “There is no standard language or model for content standards.”
State standards vary considerably in terms of features that affect their usefulness for developing curriculum materials, planning instruction, and creating assessments. While all state standards contain recognizable descriptions of academic content, these descriptions differ in important ways. One of the most important differences is in the specific content that states expect students to know. Some state standards focus on declarative and procedural knowledge—that is, knowing scientific facts, formulas, and principles and making accurate measurements and computations. These standards usually include such words as “define,” “describe,” “identify,” or “state.” Other standards include schematic or strategic knowledge—that is, posing scientific questions, designing investigations, and developing explanations and arguments. These standards may include such words as “explain,” “analyze,” “justify,” “predict,” “compare,” and “support.”
Another important difference is the scope of the basic content units that are included. Some standards describe topics broadly; others describe content in more specific, small units. Standards also differ in terms of the grade ranges that are used to locate content. Some descriptions are specific to a single grade level; others cover two- or three-year grade spans. States that use the latter approach must, under NCLB, specify grade-level content expectations for every grade in the span. The committee concurs with this requirement, noting that without it there could be a tendency for curriculum and instruction to focus more heavily on topics covered in years in which students would be assessed rather than on the full range of knowledge and skills contained in the standards.
The descriptions of content have many other differences. For example, some state standards establish priorities by identifying selected concepts or topics as of greatest importance, but most states give no guidance about the relative importance of topics, tacitly implying that everything mentioned is of equal importance. Likewise, few states make any attempt to limit the scope of their standards on the basis of an analysis of available instructional time. Some standards documents indicate interconnections among topics and attempt to integrate related