ate among, analyze, explore, design, construct, debate, or measure, they are far more useful. California’s science standards, although they describe the content to which students should be exposed, do not make clear what it is that students must be able to do to demonstrate mastery of the standards (see Box 4-3). Merely indicating that students will “know” a given topic is not enough.

Science standards must be clearly written so that they are understandable to science educators, parents, and policy makers. The American Federation of Teachers (1996) said standards should use “clear explicit language … firmly rooted in the content of the subject area, and … detailed enough to provide significant guidance to teachers, curriculum and assessment developers, parents, students

BOX 4-3
Lack of Clarity in the California Science Standards

The California standards are specific about content, but the language and the lack of clarification about what it means to “know” make the standards an inadequate guide for curriculum or assessment.

Plate Tectonics and Earth’s Structure

1. Plate tectonics accounts for important features of Earth’s surface and major geologic events. As a basis for understanding this concept:

  1. Students know evidence of plate tectonics is derived from the fit of the continents; the location of earthquakes, volcanoes, and midocean ridges; and the distribution of fossils, rock types, and ancient climatic zones.

  2. Students know Earth is composed of several layers: a cold, brittle lithosphere; a hot, convecting mantle; and a dense, metallic core.

  3. Students know lithospheric plates the size of continents and oceans move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle.

  4. Students know that earthquakes are sudden motions along breaks in the crust called faults and that volcanoes and fissures are locations where magma reaches the surface.

  5. Students know major geologic events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from plate motions.

  6. Students know how to explain major features of California geology (including mountains, faults, volcanoes) in terms of plate tectonics.

  7. Students know how to determine the epicenter of an earthquake and know that the effects of an earthquake on any region vary, depending on the size of the earthquake, the distance of the region from the epicenter, the local geology, and the type of construction in the region.


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