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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy Introduction National Standards for Mathematics and Science Education The American public recognizes the critical importance of education and the need for improving student learning. That same public places great confidence in the education they experienced and sometimes questions contemporary innovations, such as standards, activity-based curriculum, technology, and performance assessments. As society examines the values, processes, and problems of popular education, a particular hallmark of the period since the 1980s has been standards-based reform. Origins Major reports dating from the turn of the century have had significant influence on mathematics and science education. However, prior to the mid-1980s, there were few instances of professional organizations of K-12 educators producing anything as far reaching as a set of "national standards" for school curriculum and practice in a particular content area. In 1986, the Board of Directors of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) recognized a convergence of forces leading to a need for new directions in K-12 mathematics education. The demands of the information society and new societal goals for education, including mathematically literate workers, lifelong learning, opportunity for all, and an informed electorate, provided the impetus for the creation of three standards documents in mathematics. These were the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 1989); Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (NCTM, 1991); and Assessment Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 1995a), hereafter called NCTM Standards. The standards documents promote the mathematical empowerment of all students through the creation of curricula and learning environments very different from what had been current practice. A history of their development can be found in McLeod, Stake, Schappelle, Mellissinos, and Gierl (1996). In 1991, the National Research Council (NRC) was asked by the president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) to coordinate efforts to develop national standards for science education. Between 1991 and 1995, the NRC produced several drafts of the standards and set in motion a process designed to develop national consensus for the standards. The NRC's National Science Education Standards (1996a), hereafter called the NRC Standards, present a vision of a scientifically literate populace by outlining what students need to know, understand, and be able to do after 13 years of school science. The NRC document also contains standards for teaching science, professional development of teachers, assessment, science content, school programs, and the educational system. Collins (1995) has provided a history of their development. Common Features The mathematics and science standards have a number of features in common: They emphasize all students; that is, explicit statements of equity permeate the documents. They emphasize understanding, that is, students must comprehend the material they study and not merely memorize a series of facts.
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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy They focus on developing a depth of knowledge about fundamental mathematical and scientific content and processes. They include content, teaching, professional development, and assessment; that is, they recognize the need to define more than what students should know and be able to do. They emphasize content more than curriculum; that is, the documents do not define the order, structure, and organization of school mathematics and science programs. Curriculum decisions are left to states and local school districts. They emphasize a comprehensive, focused, and coherent approach to mathematics and science education. National standards reflect the consensus of experts from around the country, at the time of standards development, about what students should know, understand, and be able to do in mathematics and science and propose educational approaches. The national standards documents were developed by the professional communities of mathematicians, scientists, educators, and teachers, with extensive input and review. They are intended to suggest strategies for the improvement of mathematics and science teaching and learning in the K-12 arena. Research about mathematics and science teaching and learning guided the standards development (NCTM, 1991; NRC, 1996a; Romberg, 1992; Schoen, 1988). The documents represent valued goals; measures of their effectiveness will be available only after the idea of standards is widely accepted and enacted. It is important to note that the NCTM Standards are under revision, with release of the revised document scheduled for the year 2000. This revision was part of the original plan for the development of the NCTM Standards and will preserve the spirit of the original documents. There is ongoing discussion in the mathematics and mathematics education communities about the important details of this revision.
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