The preceding chapters of this report describe the scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas—taken together, the framework—that should be the focus of K-12 science and engineering education. In this chapter, we offer guidance for developing standards based on that framework. The committee recognizes that several layers of interpretation occur between the outline articulated in the framework and actual instruction in the classroom, with the first layer being the translation of the framework into a set of standards. In this translation, it is important to keep in mind the possibilities and constraints of K-12 science education in the United States and to consider how standards can play a role in promoting coherence in science education—an element that is critical to ensuring an effective science education for all students, as discussed in Chapter 10 on implementation.
The emphasis on coherence includes consistency across standards for different subject areas. Given the large number of states that have adopted the Common Core Standards for mathematics and English/language arts, standards for K-12 science intended for multistate adoption need to parallel the expectations for development of mathematics and English/language arts competency reflected in corresponding standards .
The framework is designed to support coherence across the science and engineering education system by providing a template that incorporates what is known about how children learn these subjects. The committee’s choice to organize the framework around the scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas is intended to facilitate this coherence. By
consistently focusing on these practices, concepts, and ideas and by drawing on research to inform how they can be supported through instruction and developed over multiple grades, the framework promotes cumulative learning for students, coordinated learning experiences across years, more focused preparation and professional development for teachers, and more coherent systems of assessment.
The committee recognizes that simply articulating the critical practices, concepts, and core ideas for K-12 science education does not by itself provide sufficient guidance for developing standards. In that spirit, the recommendations outlined in this chapter are intended to offer more detailed guidance that will help ensure fidelity to the framework. These recommendations are based on previous research syntheses published by the National Research Council (NRC)—including How People Learn , Systems for State Science Assessment , Taking Science to School , and Learning Science in Informal Environments —and they draw particularly on a list of characteristics for science content standards developed in Systems for State Science Assessment . According to that report, science content standards should be clear, detailed, and complete; reasonable in scope; rigorously and scientifically correct; and based on sound models of student learning. These standards should also have a clear conceptual framework, describe performance expectations, and identify proficiency levels.
Recommendation 1: Standards should set rigorous learning goals that represent a common expectation for all students.
At a time when nearly every aspect of human life is shaped by science and engineering, the need for all citizens to understand these fields is greater than ever before. Although many reports have identified the urgent need for a stronger workforce in science and engineering so that the United States may remain economically competitive, the committee thinks that developing a scientifically literate citizenry is equally urgent. Thus the framework is designed to be a first step toward a K-12 science education that will provide all students with experiences in science that deepen their understanding and appreciation of scientific knowledge and give them the foundation to pursue scientific or engineering careers if they so choose. A growing evidence base demonstrates that students across economic, social, and other demographic groupings can and do learn science when provided with appropriate opportunities [4-7]. These opportunities include learning the requisite literacy and numeracy skills required for science.
Because the committee proceeded on the assumption that the framework and resulting standards identify those practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas that are required for all students, some topics covered in advanced or specialized courses may not be fully represented. That is, the framework and resulting standards are not intended to represent all possible practices, concepts, and ideas covered in the full set of science courses offered through grade 12 (e.g., Advanced Placement or honors courses; technology courses; computer science courses; and social, behavioral, or economic science courses). Rather, the framework and standards represent the set of scientific and engineering practices, concepts, and ideas that all students should encounter as they move through required course sequences in the natural sciences.
Recommendation 2: Standards should be scientifically accurate yet also clear, concise, and comprehensible to science educators.
Standards for K-12 science education (a) provide guidance to education professionals about the priorities for science education and (b) articulate the learning goals that must be pursued in curricula, instruction, and assessments.
Scientific rigor and accuracy are paramount because standards serve as reference points for other elements of the system. Thus any errors in the standards are likely to be replicated in curricula, instruction, and assessments. Similarly, standards should clearly describe the scientific practices in which students will engage in classrooms . Clarity is important because curriculum developers, textbook and materials selection committees, assessment designers, and others need to develop a shared understanding of the outcomes their efforts are intended to promote .
At the same time, standards related to the framework’s concepts, ideas, and practices must be described in language that is comprehensible to individuals who are not scientists. Even though some of the professionals who play a role in interpreting standards do not have deep expertise in science, they nevertheless need to develop ways to support students’ learning in science and to determine whether students have met the standards. Standards also provide a mechanism for communicating educational priorities to an even broader set of stakeholders, including parents, community members, business people, and policy leaders at the state and national levels. Thus, although standards need to communicate accurately important scientific ideas and practices, they must
be written with these broader (nonscience) audiences in mind. Furthermore, the broad goals and major intent should be clear to any reader.
Recommendation 3: Standards should be limited in number.
The framework focuses on a limited set of scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas, which were selected by using the criteria developed by the framework committee (and outlined in Chapter 2) as a filter. We also drew on previous reports, which recommended structuring K-12 standards around core ideas as a means of focusing the K-12 science curriculum [3, 4]. These reports’ recommendations emerged from analyses of existing national, state, and local standards as well as from a synthesis of current research on learning and teaching in science.
Standards developers should adhere to the framework by concentrating on the set of practices, concepts, and core ideas described here, although undoubtedly there will be pressure from stakeholder groups to expand that set. The above-mentioned criteria can be used in determining whether a proposed addition should be accepted. An overarching consideration is whether all students need to learn the proposed idea or practice and if there would be a significant deficiency in citizens’ knowledge if it were not included. Another consideration should be recognition of the modest amount of time allotted to science in the K-12 grades. There is a limit to what can be attained in such time, and inclusion of additional elements of a discipline will always be at the expense of other elements, whether of that discipline or of another.
Recommendation 4: Standards should emphasize all three dimensions articulated in the framework—not only crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas but also scientific and engineering practices.
The committee emphasized scientific and engineering practices for several reasons. First, as discussed in Chapter 2, competency in science involves more than knowing facts, and students learn key concepts in science more effectively when they engage in these practices. Second, there is a body of knowledge about science—for example, the nature of evidence, the role of models, the features of a sound scientific argument—that is best acquired through engagement in these practices. Third, emerging evidence suggests that offering opportunities
for students to engage in scientific and engineering practices increases participation of underrepresented minorities in science [8-12].
The importance of addressing both knowledge and practice is not unique to this framework. In 1993, the Benchmarks for Science Literacy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science provided standards for students’ engagement in scientific inquiry . In 1996, the National Science Education Standards of the NRC emphasized five essential features of scientific inquiry . Two more recent NRC reports also recommended that students’ learning experiences in science should provide them with opportunities to engage in specific practices [4, 5]. The contribution of this framework is the provision of a set of scientific and engineering practices that are appropriate for K-12 students and moreover that reflect the practices routinely used by professional scientists.
Recommendation 5: Standards should include performance expectations that integrate the scientific and engineering practices with the crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas. These expectations should include criteria for identifying successful performance and require that students demonstrate an ability to use and apply knowledge.
Chapter 9 further provides two examples of how performance expectations for particular life science and physical science component ideas could be integrated with core ideas, as well as with concepts and practices, across the grades (see Tables 9-1 and 9-2).
Developing performance expectations is a major task for standards developers, but it is an effort worth making; performance expectations and criteria for successful performance are essential in order for standards to fulfill their role of supporting assessment development and setting achievement standards . An exhaustive description of every performance level for every standard is unrealistic, but at a minimum the performance expectations should describe the major criteria of successful performance .
Recommendation 6: Standards should incorporate boundary statements. That is, for a given core idea at a given grade level, standards developers should include guidance not only about what needs to be taught but also about what does not need to be taught in order for students to achieve the standard.
By delimiting what is included in a given topic in a particular grade band or grade level, boundary statements provide insights into the expected curriculum and thus aid in its development by others. Boundary statements should not add to the scope of the standards but rather should provide clear guidance regarding expectations for students. Such boundaries should be viewed as flexible and subject to modification over time, based on what is learned through implementation in the classroom and through research. However, it is important to begin with a set of statements that articulate the boundaries envisioned by standards developers.
Boundary statements can signal where material that traditionally has been included could instead be trimmed. For example, in the physical sciences, the progressions indicate that density is not stressed as a property of matter until the 6-8 grade band; at present, it is often introduced earlier and consumes considerable instructional time to little avail. Boundary statements may also help define which technical definitions or descriptions could be dispensed with in a particular grade band. Thus the boundary statements are a useful mechanism for narrowing the material to be covered, even within the core idea topics, in order to provide time for more meaningful development of ideas through engagement in practices. In other words, being explicit about what should not be taught helps clarify what should be taught.
Recommendation 7: Standards should be organized as sequences that support students’ learning over multiple grades. They should take into account how students’ command of the practices, concepts, and core ideas becomes more sophisticated over time with appropriate instructional experiences.
As noted in the introduction, the framework is designed to help students continually build on and revise their knowledge and abilities, starting from initial conceptions about how the world works and their curiosity about what they see around them. The framework’s goal is thus to provide students with opportunities to learn about the practices, concepts, and core ideas, of science and engineering in successively more sophisticated ways over multiple years . This perspective should prompt educators to decide how topics ought to be presented at each grade level so that they build on prior student learning and support continuing conceptual restructuring and refinement.
There is one overarching set of boundaries or constraints across the progressions for the disciplinary core ideas. Early work in science begins by exploring
the visible and tangible macroscopic world. Then the domain of phenomena and systems considered is broadened to those that students cannot directly see but that still operate at the scales of human experience. Students then move to exploring or envisioning things that are too small to see or too large to readily imagine, and they are aided by models or specialized tools for measurement and imaging.
This overarching progression informs the grade band endpoints in the framework. Grades K-2 focus on visible phenomena with which students are likely to have some experience in their everyday lives or in the classroom. Grades 3-5 explore macroscopic phenomena more deeply, including modeling processes and systems that are not visible. Grades 6-8 move to microscopic phenomena and introduce atoms, molecules, and cells. Grades 9-12 move to the subatomic level and to the consideration of complex interactions within and among systems at all scales.
Recommendation 8: Whenever possible, the progressions in standards should be informed by existing research on learning and teaching. In cases in which insufficient research is available to inform a progression or in which there is a lack of consensus on the research findings, the progression should be developed on the basis of a reasoned argument about learning and teaching. The sequences described in the framework can be used as guidance.
Because research on these progressions is relatively recent, there is not a robust evidence base about appropriate sequencing for every concept, core idea, or practice identified in the framework. When evidence was available, the committee used it to guide the thinking about the progression in question. When evidence was not available, we made judgments based on the best knowledge available, as supported by existing documents such as the NAEP 2009 Science Framework , the College Board Standards for College Success , and the AAAS Atlas of Science Literacy . There is also a body of research on the intuitive understanding that children bring to school and on how that intuitive knowledge influences their learning of science ; this evidence base should be considered when developing standards.
Each progression described in the framework represents a particular vision of one possible pathway by which students could come to understand a specific core idea. The committee recognizes that there are many possible alternate paths and also that there are interplays among the ideas that here are subdivided into disciplines and component ideas within a discipline. In any case, progressions
developed in the standards should be based on the available research on learning, an understanding of what is appropriate for students at a particular grade band based on research and on educators’ professional experience, and logical inferences about how learning might occur.
Recommendation 9: The committee recommends that the diverse needs of students and of states be met by developing grade band standards as an overarching common set for adoption by multiple states. For those states that prefer or require grade-by-grade standards, a suggested elaboration on grade band standards could be provided as an example.
Given the incomplete nature of the evidence base, the committee could not specify grade-by-grade steps in the progressions. Indeed, for some ideas it was difficult just to develop research-based progressions at the grade band level; in those cases, we relied on expert judgment and previous standards documents. And even if grade-by-grade standards were feasible, research has shown that, within a particular grade, different students are often at different levels of achievement; thus expectations that every student will reach understanding of a core idea by the end of that grade may not be warranted. Across a grade band, however, students can continue to build on and develop core ideas over multiple school years; by the end of the grade band, they are more likely to have reached the levels of understanding intended.
In the committee’s judgment, grade band standards are also more appropriate than grade-by-grade ones for systemic reasons, particularly for standards that may be adopted and implemented in numerous states. Because schools across the country vary both in their degree of organization, in their human and physical resources, and in the topics they have traditionally included at various grades, a national-level document’s universal and homogeneous prescription for grade-by-grade standards may be too difficult for the schools in some states to meet, and it would perhaps be inappropriate for those localities to begin with. By contrast, specification by grade bands gives curriculum developers, states, districts, schools, and teachers the professional autonomy to ensure that content can be taught in a manner appropriate to the local context. This autonomy includes choosing from various possible strategies for course sequences and course organization at the middle and high school levels.
However, because it is recognized that many states require grade-by-grade standards for K-8 and course standards at the high school level, an example set
of such standards may need to be provided. The intent of this recommendation is that states or districts wishing to offer alternative course sequences and organization at the high school level or alternative within grade band organization of content at the K-8 level can adopt the grade band standards.
This recommendation should not be interpreted as suggesting that students in some areas need not or cannot learn particular topics until later grade levels, but rather that the transition to a single common set of grade-by-grade standards is perhaps more onerous for schools and districts in term of curriculum materials, equipment, and teacher professional development needs than a transition to the somewhat more flexible definition of sequence given by grade band standards.
Recommendation 10: If grade-by-grade standards are written based on the grade band descriptions provided in the framework, these standards should be designed to provide a coherent progression within each grade band.
The content described in the framework is designed to be distributed over each grade band in a manner that builds on previous learning and is not repetitive. If standards developers choose to create grade-by-grade standards, it is necessary that these standards provide clear articulation of the content across grades within a band and attend to the progression of science learning from grade to grade within the band. At the middle and high school levels, course standards and suggested course sequences may be more appropriate than grade-level standards.
Recommendation 11: Any assumptions about the resources, time, and teacher expertise needed for students to achieve particular standards should be made explicit.
In designing the framework, the committee tried to set goals for science education that would not only improve its quality but also be attainable under current resources and other constraints. In addition, the committee intended for the framework’s goals to act as levers for much-needed improvement in how schools are able to deliver high-quality science education to all students. For example, in order to meet the goals for science education in the elementary grades, more time may need to be devoted to science than is currently allocated. The committee recognizes as well that new curricula aligned to the framework will need to be developed and that professional development for teachers will need to be updated.
Standards developers should be cautious about limiting the rigor of standards in response to perceptions about the system’s constraints. Research clearly demonstrates that all students have the capacity to learn science when motivated to do so and provided with adequate opportunities to acquire the requisite literacy and numeracy skills [4, 5]. Thus standards should catalyze change in the system when necessary, motivating states, school districts, and schools to ensure that all students have access to rich learning experiences.
Recommendation 12: The standards for the sciences and engineering should align coherently with those for other K-12 subjects. Alignment with the Common Core Standards in mathematics and English/language arts is especially important.
As noted earlier, achieving coherence within the system is critical for ensuring an effective science education for all students. An important aspect of coherence is continuity across different subjects within a grade or grade band. By this we mean “sensible connections and coordination [among] the topics that students study in each subject within a grade and as they advance through the grades” [3, p. 298]. The underlying argument is that coherence across subject areas contributes to increased student learning because it provides opportunities for reinforcement and additional uses of practices in each area.
For example, students’ writing and reading, particularly nonfiction, can cut across science and literacy learning. Uses of mathematical concepts and tools are critical to scientific progress and understanding. Examples from history of how scientists developed and argued about evidence for different scientific theories could support students’ understanding of how their own classroom scientific practices play a role in validating knowledge. Similarly, there should be coherence between science and social studies (as these terms are currently used in schools). Applications of natural sciences and engineering to address important global issues—such as climate change, the production and distribution of food, the supply of water, and population growth—require knowledge from the social sciences about social systems, cultures, and economics; societal decisions about the advancement of science also require a knowledge of ethics. Basically, a coherent set of science standards will not be sufficient to prepare citizens for the 21st century unless there is also coherence across all subject areas of the K-12 curriculum.
Greater coherence may also enhance students’ motivation because their development of competence is better supported. And it could increase teacher
effectiveness across subjects, as teachers could be mutually supportive of one another in weaving connections across the curriculum . All in all, better alignment across the standards in the different subjects would contribute to the development of the knowledge and skills that students need in order to make progress in each of their subjects.
Recommendation 13: In designing standards and performance expectations, issues related to diversity and equity need to be taken into account. In particular, performance expectations should provide students with multiple ways of demonstrating competence in science.
As discussed in Chapter 11, the committee is convinced that, given appropriate opportunities to learn and sufficient motivation, students from all backgrounds can become competent in science. It is equally important that all students be provided with opportunities to demonstrate their competence in ways that do not create unnecessary barriers. Standards should promote broadening participation in science and engineering by focusing the education system on inclusive and meaningful learning as well as on assessment experiences that maintain high academic expectations for all students.
Previous standards for K-12 science education have been criticized for obscuring the educational histories and circumstances of specific cultural groups . Diversity should be made visible in the new standards in ways that might, for example, involve (a) presenting some performance tasks in the context of historical scientific accomplishments, which include a broad variety of cultural examples and do not focus exclusively on scientific discoveries made by scientists in a limited set of countries; (b) addressing the educational issues encountered by English language learners when defining performance expectations; (c) attending to the funds of knowledge that specific communities possess with regard to specific core ideas and practices (e.g., knowledge of ecosystem dynamics in Native American communities, knowledge of living organisms in agricultural communities) and with regard to performance expectations; (d) drawing on examples that are not dominated by the interests of one gender, race, or culture; (e) ensuring that students with particular learning disabilities are not excluded from appropriate science learning; and (f) providing examples of performance tasks appropriate to the special needs of such students.
The variety of issues raised by the above list illustrates the challenges of providing learning opportunities and assessments that support all students in their
development of competence and confidence as science learners. To ensure equity in a diverse student population, these challenges must be directly addressed not only by teachers in the classroom but also in the design and implementation of the standards, the curricula that fulfill them, the assessment system that evaluates student progress, and the accompanying research on learning and teaching in science.
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