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5 The Influence of the National Science Education Standards on Teachers and Teaching Practice Horizon Research, Inc. The National Science Education Standards (NSES) describe a vision of science teaching and learning where students are helped to construct their own understanding of important science concepts, learning both the disciplinary content knowledge and how that knowledge is created. According to the NSES, students need to be engaged in genuine inquiries where they do not know the outcome beforehand; at least some of the time they need to have a hand in choosing the object of inquiry and designing the investigation. Assessment of students needs to be ongoing and used at least as much to monitor student progress and inform instructional decisions as to assign grades. The teacher’s role in standards-based instruction is to function as a facilitator of student learning rather than as a dispenser of information. This image of science instruction stands in sharp contrast to “traditional” instruction, in which teachers lecture and direct students in step-by-step activities, where students often know the outcome before they begin the activity, and where each lecture-lab cycle concludes with a chapter or unit test before moving on to the next topic. If the NSES are to have an impact on student learning, they first have to affect what happens in the science classroom, which depends in large measure on teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions. In this paper, we review the literature to attempt to answer several questions: What are teachers’ attitudes toward the NSES? How well prepared are teachers to implement standards-based instruction? What science content is being taught? What pedagogy are science teachers using, and how does this compare with the vision of science instruction embodied in the NSES? Within each of these questions, we consider the current status, changes in the status since before the NSES were published, and the extent to which any changes might be traced to the influence of the NSES. Many of the reform efforts described in this literature search are part of broader systemic reform efforts. When interventions are described as standards-based in the literature, it is not always clear which results are in relation to national science standards, or to state science standards, or to a broader reform movement. The NRC literature search cast the net broadly in the belief that all of this work can help inform our understanding of the
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nature and extent of the influence of standards on the educational system. In this paper we have maintained this broad interpretation. Our focus was on empirical evidence of the nature and extent of influence of the NSES on teachers and teaching practice. We did not include in this analysis papers that discussed the implications of NSES for policy and practice, or advocated for standards or a particular type of professional development, but did not provide empirical data. We also omitted empirical studies that focused on very small sample sizes or failed to provide sufficient evidence to justify their conclusions. Finally, we limited the use of studies of mathematics reform to those that clearly had implications for understanding the influence of science standards. ATTITUDES TOWARD NATIONAL STANDARDS As already noted, the NSES call for major changes in instructional practice. It is reasonable to expect that teachers who agree with the vision of science teaching in the NSES will be more inclined to put in the extra effort required to change their practice. How teachers feel about the NSES and about standards-based instruction, the results of efforts to align teachers’ attitudes and beliefs with the NSES, and barriers to the success of these efforts are addressed in several studies identified in the NRC literature search. The following sections address the extent to which teachers who have been exposed to the NSES support the underlying vision, the extent to which attempts to align teachers’ attitudes and beliefs with the NSES have been successful, and some of the factors that affect teachers’ attitudes toward the NSES and standards-based instruction. Teachers Who Have Had an Opportunity to Become Familiar with the NSES See Value in Them Awareness of and familiarity with the NSES differ by teachers’ grade level. The 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education found that middle and high school science teachers were much more likely than elementary teachers to report being aware of the NSES; one-third of elementary teachers, compared to about 60 percent of middle- and high-school science teachers reported being at least somewhat familiar with the document. However, among those who indicated familiarity, there was no difference by grade range in extent of agreement with the NSES; approximately two-thirds of science teachers across the board report agreeing or strongly agreeing with the vision of science education described by the NSES (Weiss, Banilower, McMahon, and Smith, 2001). Similarly, there were no differences in extent of agreement by urbanicity, region, or school SES (Banilower, Smith, and Weiss, 2002). A Variety of Interventions Attempting to Align Teachers’ Attitudes and Beliefs with the NSES Have Been Successful Several studies report on the impact of various interventions on teachers’ attitudes and beliefs. For example, in a study of the Milwaukee Urban Systemic Initiative (MUSI), Doyle and Huinker (1999) reported that there was “strong evidence to indicate that the strength of MUSI during its two years of implementation was a change in attitude toward mathematics and science instruction. Site visit interviews with principals, teachers, students, and MSRTs [Mathematics and Science Resource Teachers] all indicated more teachers were interested in teaching reform than had been in the past” (p. 28). Zucker, Shields, Adelman, Corcoran, and Goertz (1998) synthesized data gathered as part of SRI’s five-year cross-site evaluation of NSF’s Statewide Systemic Initiatives (SSIs). The evaluation covered 25 SSIs and included data from principal investigators, observations of activities, interviews with key stakeholders, and document reviews. The researchers found that “most teachers participating in the SSIs articulated an understanding of and commitment to the new paradigm of teaching—hands-on activities, students working cooperatively, teachers probing for students’ prior knowledge and encouraging the students to demonstrate an understanding of the concepts” (p.19). How teachers come to engage with the NSES may affect the likelihood of their supporting standards-based
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reform. A study by Keiffer-Barone, McCollum, Rowe, and Blackwell (1999) found that most teachers’ attitudes toward standards became more positive during the process of writing a curriculum based on national standards. The research was conducted in an NSF-supported Urban Systemic Initiative in a high-minority urban district. In writing the curriculum, teachers referred to Project 2061 Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy and drafts of the NSES. The authors indicated that teachers recognized the advantage of creating a standards-based curriculum in articulating what students “should know and be able to do in science” district-wide, particularly in a district that had problems with high student mobility. Teachers also reported that the standards-based curriculum “held both teachers and students more accountable for learning.” In addition, teachers reported that the correlation of the curriculum with state and national standards “better prepares our students to meet the demands of their future” (Keiffer-Barone et al., 1999, p.4). Standards-based science curriculum has been the centerpiece of another set of reform projects, NSF’s Local Systemic Change through Teacher Enhancement Initiative (LSC). These projects focused on providing in-depth professional development to all teachers in a district around a designated set of exemplary instructional materials. Questionnaire data from a random sample of teachers showed a positive relationship between the extent of teachers’ participation in LSC standards-based professional development and their attitudes toward standards-based teaching. Scores on a composite variable created from 10 questionnaire items asking teachers about the importance of a variety of standards-based teaching practices (e.g., providing concrete experience before abstract concepts, developing students’ conceptual understanding of science, having students participate in appropriate hands-on activities, and engaging students in inquiry-oriented activities) were positively correlated with the amount of teacher professional development (Weiss, Banilower, Overstreet, and Soar, 2002). Both External and Internal Factors Mediate Aligning Teachers’ Attitudes with the NSES A number of studies, while reporting on the impact of an intervention on teachers’ attitudes about the NSES or standards-based teaching practices, also made note of some of the factors that inhibited teachers’ acceptance of the standards. These ranged from external factors, such as state testing, to internal ones, such as a lack of indepth understanding of what the standards mean. Based on a review of the literature, von Driel, Beijaard, and Verloop (2001) suggested that science teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about their own teaching practice are “the starting point for change. Consequently, one needs to investigate the practical knowledge of the teachers involved, including their beliefs, attitudes and concerns, at the start of a reform project” (p. 151). They noted that teachers sometimes hold seemingly contradictory attitudes toward standards-based reform. Citing a study by Whigham et al., the authors noted that while teachers expressed a higher degree of agreement with standards-consistent activities, “at the same time, however, many teachers, especially secondary science teachers, also expressed a strong commitment toward standards-inconsistent activities…. These apparently inconsistent belief systems were explained by the authors in terms of science teachers struggling with the tension of pursuing science topics in depth, as required by the standards, versus pressure to ‘get through’ the breadth of the provided curriculum materials” (p.147). The evaluation of the LSC also found that many teachers expressed concerns about standards-based reform. When asked what they found “least helpful” about the LSC, 40 percent of the teachers interviewed indicated that they faced difficulties implementing the instructional materials, with the time required to implement them and difficulty with materials management being the most common complaints. Other teachers talked about feeling torn between the reform vision, which they believed to be in their students’ best interests, and the need to prepare students for state and district tests that were not aligned with the NSES (Weiss, Arnold et al., 2001). Two studies looked at teacher attitudes toward standards-based reform in Kentucky. The Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990 mandated massive changes in school curriculum and instructional practice based on Kentucky state standards, calling for teachers to transition from traditional, fact-based approaches to teaching for understanding. Kannapel, Aagaard, Coe, and Reeves (2001) studied the implementation of these reforms over several years in six schools located in four “typical” rural school districts. The researchers reported that some changes were noted at first, as teachers experimented with hands-on instruction, writing activities, and interdisciplinary lessons. However, many teachers eventually returned to more traditional instruction, maintain-
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ing only a few of the reforms such as flexible seating arrangements, group learning, and hands-on activities. The authors indicated their belief that this return to traditional instruction was attributable to a lack of follow-up support after the initial professional development and to the pressures of the state test. They reported that teachers found the new strategies labor-intensive and time-consuming, and worried that students were not acquiring basic skills. When questioned about their continued reliance on teacher-directed, fact-based approaches, teachers cited concerns about getting through the core content while covering subject matter in any depth or engaging students in extended, problem-based activities. They reported fears that they might lose control of student learning and behavior if they allowed more student direction. Moreover, some teachers said they “simply did not know how to ‘teach for understanding,’ and did not have the time or opportunity to learn” (p. 249). The KERA reforms included the implementation of a standards-based assessment. Stecher et al. (1998) reported on the impact of Kentucky’s standards-based assessment on teacher attitudes. Created in 1991 as part of the broader reform, the assessment “was designed to be consistent with the philosophy and content emphasis of KERA as well as with themes that characterize assessment reform nationally” (p. 3), relying more on open-ended responses and yearlong portfolios than on multiple-choice items. The researchers found that teachers did not consider traditional and standards-based assessment practices to be mutually exclusive, as they indicated support for practices of both kinds. However, the authors noted that contradictory responses on some items, including agreement with several items that were in fact mutually exclusive, may indicate some uncertainty about how to integrate the two. For example, a majority of teachers agreed with statements that “students learn best if they have to figure things out for themselves,” and that “students’ errors should be corrected quickly so they do not finish a lesson feeling confused or stuck” (p. 23). Teachers also demonstrated ambivalence toward the use of portfolios. Although they largely agreed that portfolios had a positive effect on instruction, teachers noted that the heavy emphasis on writing was burdensome to both them and their students and made it difficult to cover the entire curriculum. Wilson and Floden (2001) conducted a three-year study of reform across the curriculum in 23 school districts in eight states. Interviews were conducted with teachers, principals, and district staff “as they responded to local, state, and national pressures to reform teaching and learning” (p.195). The researchers found that the concept of standards-based reform was interpreted in a wide variety of ways, with perceptions differing even within schools: “For some teachers, the reform is hardly noticeable, flowing into a long stream of other reforms, or so our informants suggest. For others, [standards-based reform] has provided a clarity and language for thinking about their practice. For a few, it has felt constraining, well-intentioned efforts to raise the quality of all teaching but stifling for teachers who have a history of raising professional expectations on their own” (p. 213). Simon, Foley, and Passantino (1998) reported similar variation in a multi-year study of the Children Achieving project in Philadelphia. The purpose of this district-wide reform initiative was to: (1) facilitate the implementation of a standards-based approach to instruction and (2) act as a system of accountability. Using interviews, classroom observations, and surveys, the authors examined teachers’ views about and use of school-district standards as well as the impact on their classroom instruction in English/language arts, mathematics, and science. The researchers noted that while a majority of the teachers were aware of the standards, there was considerable variation in how they interpreted standards-based instruction: Although some of the teachers we interviewed talked about the application of standards as described earlier in this report, most said they did not really understand what standards meant for a classroom, or said that the standards were “nothing new” and were similar to the prior curriculum guidelines they had used for years. In the first case, teachers may believe they should change what they are doing in the classroom in order to conform to a standards-driven approach, but they are not sure what to do and want more support. In the latter case, teachers do not see a need to change what they are doing as long as they are “covering” the standards. Another factor contributing to teachers’ reluctance to change their practice is that they believe their instruction is highly effective and that the main obstacle to student achievement is the characteristics of the students themselves. (p. 31) The picture that emerges from this set of studies is complex. Teachers who have had an opportunity to
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become familiar with standards-based reform often indicate that they see value in the approach, but how they interpret standards may vary. Some believe that they are already covering the NSES in their instruction and wonder what all the fuss is about. Others see the changes as substantial, requiring a great deal of additional work, and are concerned about their ability to teach in a standards-based fashion when they are under pressure to cover a certain amount of content. In some cases, rather than seeing standards-based instruction as an alternative to traditional instruction, teachers see the two as complementary, and appear to prefer blending elements of the two. Inconsistencies in teachers’ reports suggest a lack of deep knowledge of the NSES and/or a widespread desire to reconcile traditional attitudes and beliefs with standards-based attitudes and beliefs, despite internal contradictions. TEACHER PREPAREDNESS Implementing standards-based reforms requires both that teachers be willing to change their instruction and that they have the capacity to do so. The following sections address the extent to which teachers are prepared to implement standards-based instruction, and the effectiveness of professional development and other interventions at increasing teacher preparedness. Many Teachers Are Not Well Prepared to Implement the NSES By their own report, relatively few elementary teachers in the nation are very well qualified to teach life, earth, or physical science, with percentages ranging from 18 percent for physical science to 29 percent for life science. These data stand in sharp contrast to other core subjects, where 60 percent of elementary teachers consider themselves very well qualified to teach mathematics and 76 percent to teach reading/language arts (Weiss, Banilower et al., 2001). Further, evidence from the 1993 and 2000 National Surveys of Science and Mathematics Education suggests there has been no improvement in elementary teachers’ preparedness to teach life science, earth science, or mathematics (Smith, Banilower, McMahon, and Weiss, 2002). At the secondary level, teachers vary in how qualified they feel depending on the subjects they teach. For example, 89 percent of chemistry teachers reported feeling very well qualified to teach about the structure of matter; in contrast, only 60 percent of physical science teachers reported feeling very well qualified to teach about force and motion. Biology, physics, and earth science teachers were distributed between these extremes (Horizon Research, 2002). With regard to pedagogy, elementary teachers were less likely than middle and high school science teachers to indicate they were prepared to develop students’ conceptual understanding of science, provide deeper coverage of fewer science concepts, or manage a class of students engaged in hands-on/project-based work (Weiss, Banilower, et al., 2001). Additional analyses of the 2000 National Survey data conducted by Banilower et al. (2002) investigated the relationship between teachers’ familiarity with the NSES and their preparedness to use standards-based teaching practices and to teach students from diverse backgrounds. Controlling for a number of teacher and school factors, teachers indicating they are familiar with the NSES report that they are better prepared to use standards-based teaching practices and to teach students from diverse backgrounds. However, as the authors note, it is not possible to tell from these data whether better-prepared teachers were more likely to seek out information about the NSES, or if the mechanisms through which they became familiar with the NSES contributed to their feelings of preparedness. Professional Development Often Appears to Be Successful in Increasing Teachers’ Content and Pedagogical Preparedness Data from the 1996 and 2000 National Assessments of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the 1993 and 2000 National Surveys of Science and Mathematics Education indicate that the amount of science-related professional
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development has either remained constant or decreased slightly since the publication of the NSES. In both 1993 and 2000, fewer than one in five K–8 science teachers reported more than 35 hours of science-related professional development in the prior three years (Smith et al., 2002). Blank and Langesen (2001) cite NAEP data that in 2000, 46 percent of eighth-grade science teachers participated in 16 or more hours of professional development in the preceding 12 months, a decline from 57 percent in 1996. Quite a few of the studies included in the review looked at the impact of standards-based professional development on teacher preparedness. Questionnaire data collected from a random sample of teachers participating in NSF’s Local Systemic Change through Teacher Enhancement Initiative (LSC) showed a positive relationship between the extent of teachers’ participation in professional development focusing on standards-based instructional materials and teachers’ perceptions of their content preparedness (Weiss, Arnold et al., 2001). The researchers also found a relationship between professional development and teachers’ perceptions of their pedagogical preparedness. On a composite variable created from items asking about teachers’ preparedness to carry out various practices in their classroom (e.g., lead a class of students using investigative strategies, use informal questioning to assess student understanding, use informal questioning to assess student understanding, engage students in inquiry-oriented activities), highly treated teachers scored significantly higher than untreated teachers (Weiss, Arnold et al., 2001). Again, however, it is possible that the teachers most eager to seek out large amounts of professional development are the ones who already perceived themselves as well prepared. The Merck Institute for Science Education provided teachers with professional development focused on each of a number of commercially available science curriculum modules that were judged by project staff to be aligned with both national and state standards (Consortium for Policy Research in Education, 2000). Teachers had an opportunity to work through the module in four full days in the summer, addressing both content and pedagogical issues, and to reflect on their experience with the new curriculum and pedagogy during two half-days in the academic year, including discussions of student work. The report notes that in response to surveys distributed at the end of the workshops, more than 95 percent of participants indicated that they understood the key concepts in the modules. Kim, Crasco, Blank, and Smithson (2001) used the Survey of Enacted Curriculum to study the effects of standards-based professional development on science instruction in eight Urban Systemic Initiatives (USIs). Survey data were compared for teachers in two groups—“High PD” (16 or more hours of professional development in their subject area in the last 12 months) and “Low PD.” The researchers found that High PD teachers were more confident than Low PD teachers in their ability to “provide science instruction that meets the science standards, manage a class of students using hands-on or laboratory equipment, and use a variety of assessment strategies” (p.35). However, the authors note that at both the elementary and middle school level, High PD teachers reported having taken a significantly higher number of science courses in college than Low PD teachers, making it difficult to attribute differences in teachers’ perceptions of their preparedness to the professional development. SRI International conducted an evaluation of the impact of Project 2061-sponsored workshops on teachers (Zucker, Young, and Luczak, 1996). Surveys were administered to a sample of participants who had attended workshops of a half-day or longer focused on the use of Project 2061 tools. The report notes that teachers who attended these workshops are “above-average science teachers,” much more likely than teachers in the nation as a whole to hold degrees in science or science education; as a group, they were also more experienced in science teaching. Only about one in five participating teachers reported that the workshop had been of major benefit in increasing their science knowledge and in providing them with new ideas and methods for implementing inquiry-based lessons. It is not clear to what extent this relatively low impact is due to the typically short duration of the intervention, the fact that the teachers were generally well prepared at the outset, or whether involvement with the Project 2061 tools is simply not effective in increasing teachers’ perceptions of their preparedness for science teaching. The National Evaluation of the Eisenhower Professional Development Program (Garet et al., 1999) included a survey of a national probability sample of teachers who had participated in Eisenhower-funded activities.
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Approximately two-thirds of the teachers who had participated in state agency for higher education (SAHE) Eisenhower-assisted activities and half of those involved in the district component of the program reported enhanced knowledge of mathematics/science. Teachers were less likely to report that the program activities had enhanced their knowledge and skills in technology, with 50 percent of the SAHE and 24 percent of district participants reporting impact, and even less likely to report enhanced knowledge and skills in approaches to diversity (35 percent for SAHE and 26 percent for district activities). The researchers noted that the Eisenhower-assisted professional development activities that emphasized content knowledge and active learning, and were longer in duration, were more likely to have teachers who reported enhanced knowledge and skills. Similarly, the more coherent activities—those that participants saw as aligned with state and district standards, built on prior professional development, and were followed up with later activities—were associated with teacher reports of impact, suggesting that standards-based professional development is more effective than other approaches. It is important to note that the measures of teacher preparedness used in all of these studies were based on teacher self-report. When some of these researchers observed classrooms, they found considerable variability in quality. For example, one study noted that some of the teachers who had reported that they understood the key science concepts in the student modules in fact “struggled with the underlying content when using the science modules. Thus although teachers felt prepared to teach the concepts, some were unaware of what they did not know” (CPRE, 2000, p. 17). In summary, the review of the literature showed that inadequate teacher preparedness is clearly a problem. Elementary teachers report being inadequately prepared in science content, and many teachers at all grade levels perceive substantial gaps in their ability to implement standards-based science instruction. The literature also indicates that teachers who have been exposed to the NSES and standards-based professional development are more likely to feel well prepared to implement some of these strategies, such as taking students’ prior conceptions into account when planning and implementing science instruction. However, while intensive professional development focused around standards-based instructional materials/pedagogy appears to be successful in increasing teachers’ preparedness, the typical teacher participates in only minimal amounts of professional development, less than a few days per year. WHAT SCIENCE IS BEING TAUGHT Although the NSES document includes science teaching standards, professional development standards, assessment standards, and science education program and system standards, the largest number of pages by far is devoted to science content standards, outlining “what students should know, understand, and be able to do in natural science” (NRC, 1996, p. 103). It follows, then, that understanding the influence of the NSES requires knowing the extent to which students are given the opportunity to learn this content in their science classes, and the extent to which any changes since the introduction of the NSES can be traced to them. These issues are addressed in the sections below. Little Is Known About What Is Taught in Science Classrooms There is relatively little information available about what science is being taught in the nation’s classrooms, both before the NSES and since, which makes it difficult to assess the extent of influence of the NSES on teaching practice. Based on a textbook analysis conducted in 1992–93 as part of the TIMSS study, Schmidt, McKnight, and Raizen (1997) reported that science textbooks commonly used in the United States “devoted space to many topics and focused little on any particular topic” (pp. 8–9). Results of a 1995 survey indicated that teachers, in turn, “often cover something of everything, and little of any one thing” (p. 8). The authors note that the choice of breadth over depth is inconsistent with the recommendations of standards-based reform. Reflecting on the TIMSS data, the National Research Council (1999a) noted that “the potential disadvantage of teaching mathematics and science this way is the concept conveyed by the statement ‘more is less,’ implying that students exposed
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to a large number of disconnected topics tend to learn less overall than if the curriculum were more focused” (p. 37). Data from the 1996 and 2000 NAEP suggest that the science curriculum in the fourth grade has become more balanced since the NSES were published, with a greater percentage of teachers spending “a lot” of class time focusing on earth science, while maintaining an emphasis on life and physical science. At grade 8, the percentage of teachers emphasizing each of these areas has not changed since 1996, with about half the teachers giving heavy emphasis to earth and physical science, and one-fifth reporting “a lot” of time spent on life science (http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/). With the exception of NAEP, there are no national data on the content of the enacted science curriculum, and what data are available from NAEP are difficult to interpret. For example, although more teachers may be reporting an emphasis on earth science, we cannot know the extent to which the added content is standards-based. A lack of such national data on the science curriculum makes tracing the influence of the NSES extremely difficult. The Surveys of Enacted Curriculum (Blank et al., 2001) hold some promise here, but to date they have not been administered to a nationally representative sample of science teachers. The 1993 and 2000 National Surveys of Science and Mathematics Education suggest that teachers are actually less likely now than prior to the NSES to emphasize a number of instructional objectives typically thought of as being consistent with the NSES, including “learning to evaluate arguments based on scientific evidence” and “learning how to communicate ideas in science effectively” (Smith et al., 2002). In addition, a regression analysis that controlled for a number of teacher and school factors showed a relationship between teachers’ familiarity with the NSES and their emphasis on instructional objectives related to the nature of science. The authors note that while greater emphasis cannot necessarily be attributed to familiarity with the NSES, there is clearly a relationship between the two. A similar result was found for teachers who reported implementing the NSES in their classroom (Banilower et al., 2002). Few Studies Have Examined the Impact of the NSES on What Science Is Being Taught Relatively few studies identified in the NRC search addressed the impact of standards on what is being taught in science classes. In an article based on data gathered before the NSES were published, Porter (1998) looked at the influence of standard-setting policies in high school mathematics and science on students’ opportunity to learn. More specifically the author looked at how increased enrollment in mathematics and science courses due to more rigorous state requirements affected the content that was taught, as well as how it was taught. The study involved states that “had made, relative to other states, major increases in the number of math and science credits required to graduate from high school” (p. 134). Two districts, one large urban and one smaller rural/suburban, were selected within each state. All mathematics and science teachers within the school were asked to complete surveys that included questions about the topics and cognitive demands of their instruction as well as time spent on each. A subset of teachers also completed teacher logs every day of the school year capturing similar information. The researchers compared the responses of teachers in schools with large increases in enrollment in a course (e.g., biology) to those with stable enrollments. The findings of these analyses are largely positive on the effects of increased standards for high school course taking in mathematics and science. As states raised their graduation requirements in mathematics and science, students responded by taking more mathematics and science courses, including more college preparatory mathematics and science courses. At the same time, the probabilities of high school graduation remained unchanged, with students just as likely to graduate from high school after the implementation of the new standards as before that time. Furthermore, essentially no evidence exists that the influx of increased numbers of students into mathematics and science courses resulted in a watering down of those courses. (Porter, 1998, p. 152) In part because the NSES are newer, and in part because mathematics is more likely to be tested at the state
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and district levels, the science standards appear to be lagging behind those in mathematics in influence on classroom practice. The Connecticut Statewide Systemic Initiative supported mathematics and/or science curriculum development and professional development in grades K–8 in 19 urban and rural districts. Programs varied from district to district, but most involved writing and coordinating new curricula and the demonstration of “hands-on” activities. A case study of this work (Goertz et al., 1998) observed, “teachers were much less aware of national science standards than of national mathematics standards” (p. 24). In the elementary grades, science instruction in the Connecticut SSI schools was typically based on themes, with reading often integrated into the lessons. These teachers reported that they rarely taught science, and those who did taught science only two or three times a week. In the middle schools, science was reported as being more hands-on through the use of kits or projects (e.g., Delta, FAST, AIMS, CEPUP). In many of the schools, teachers had received some training on the use of the kits, in many cases a half-day session on a particular kit. Teachers indicated that they liked the kits but they appeared to lack a clear understanding of how they fit together to constitute the science curriculum. Without a coherent science curriculum, the researchers indicated that teachers appeared to “grab whatever was available to them from workshops or commercial sources and patched together curricula” (Goertz et al., 1998, p. 24). There is some evidence of standards, in this case state content standards, helping to create coherence in the curriculum. Researchers at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) reported on the Merck Institute for Science Education (CPRE, 2000). Merck project staff have been working with four districts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania since 1993, initially helping to develop a shared vision of quality science instruction in grades K–8, and subsequently developing a cadre of teacher-leaders and assisting them in providing professional development workshops for their peers. The authors note that changes in New Jersey state policy (adoption of state standards in science, and plans to implement a fourth-grade science assessment) provided opportunities for impact not only on teacher knowledge and pedagogical skills, but also on what they teach. The project evaluator reported that “Merck Institute staff worked closely with the three New Jersey partner districts to develop curriculum frameworks for science and to select related instructional materials, thereby providing their teachers a blueprint for instruction. This was a major departure from the past when districts developed curricula by committee and selected materials based upon the quality of publishers’ presentations. For the first time, standards of what students should know and be able to do were guiding curriculum development and the selection of instructional materials” (pp. 7–8). There is other evidence that state assessment standards have led to an unanticipated narrowing of the curriculum. Stecher et al. (1998) reported on the impact of Kentucky’s standards-based, high-stakes assessment (KIRIS) on classroom practice. Based on teacher reports of the amount of time spent covering various content areas, after KIRIS assessments were implemented, the emphasis appeared to shift to reflect the subjects that were tested at their grade level, with mathematics covered more heavily. Within mathematics, teachers continued to emphasize traditional topics (e.g., numbers and computation), but they also increased their coverage of standards-based topics (e.g., geometry and measurement or statistics and probability). According to the authors, “virtually all teachers agreed that KIRIS had caused teachers to de-emphasize or neglect untested material” (p. 6). The authors note that “some caution is warranted interpreting the results regarding total class time per subject, although there is little reason to question the relative changes in time among subjects” (p. 19). Although a majority of teachers reported devoting more time to topics listed in the survey, far fewer reported decreasing time spent on any topics. Many teachers reported increasing the time spent on all topics listed. The authors suggest that these results could be valid if teachers integrated subjects, thereby increasing the time spent on several simultaneously, or if they increased the overall amount of time available by reducing non-academic activities in the classroom. In summary, relatively little is known about what science is being taught, either the topics addressed, or the extent of focus on particular concepts within those content areas. Given the focus of the NSES on identifying the content goals for K–12 science education, the paucity of studies related to what is taught in science classrooms leaves a major gap in our understanding of the influence of standards.
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HOW SCIENCE IS BEING TAUGHT In contrast to the limited amount of information about what science is taught, there is considerable information in the literature about how science is taught and the influence of the NSES on those practices. In the following sections, we examine the extent of change in classroom practice since the introduction of the NSES, the evidence that professional development leads to standards-based practice, and the extent to which teacher self-report data can be relied upon to give an accurate picture of classroom instruction. We also look at the evidence that standards-based practices are often blended in with traditional practice, and discuss some of the contextual factors that appear to affect the nature and extent of the implementation of the NSES. Overall Science Teaching Has Undergone Little Change Since Before the NSES St. John et al. (1999) observed 156 lessons in mathematics, science, and technology in seven randomly selected school districts in New York State, including large and small districts, rural and urban districts, and both high- and low-need districts. The researchers reported a wide range of quality of instruction within each district, but skewed toward the low end, with fewer than one in five “reflecting the vision that is laid out in the national standards documents” (p. 6). Results from the 1993 and 2000 National Surveys of Science and Mathematics Education (Smith et al., 2002) also suggest that there has been little change in science instruction in the nation as a whole since the NSES were published. Although there does appear to have been some reduction in the frequency of lecture, in the use of textbook/worksheet problems, and in the amount of time students spend reading about science, there has been essentially no change in the use of hands-on activities. For example, 51 percent of grades 5–8 science classes in 1993 and 50 percent in 2000 included hands-on activities. Similar findings with regard to the use of hands-on activities emerge from the 1996 and 2000 NAEP data. Depending on whether students or teachers are reporting, the data indicate either no change or a small decrease in the use of hands-on activities since the NSES were published (http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/). In addition, the use of computers in science instruction is striking in its constancy, with fewer than 10 percent of science lessons including student computer use in both 1993 and 2000 (Smith et al., 2002). In additional analyses of the 2000 National Survey data, Banilower et al. (2002) looked at the relationship between teachers’ familiarity with the NSES and their implementation of standards-aligned instructional practices. Five class-activity scales created, based on a factor analysis of the instructional practice items, were judged to be particularly aligned with the NSES: Use of laboratory activities Use of projects/extended investigations Use of informal assessment Use of journals/portfolios Use of strategies to develop students’ ability to communicate ideas. After controlling for teacher gender, race, amount of professional development, content preparedness, school urbanicity, and whether the teacher works in a self-contained classroom, the researchers found that teachers indicating they are familiar with the NSES were more likely to report using standards-based instruction. Interestingly, with the exception of use of laboratory activities, this relationship was not found for teachers reporting they are implementing the NSES in their classrooms, possibly indicating that teachers do not have a clear vision of what it means to “implement” the NSES. Standards-Based Professional Development Leads to Standards-Based Practice As part of the Ohio Statewide Systemic Initiative, professional development was provided to middle school teachers in the form of a six-week institute on a university campus, followed by seminars in pedagogy, assess
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ment, and equity. Two-week to four-week programs, spread throughout one or more summers and academic years at local school sites, emerged in later years to reach more teachers. Questionnaire data, interviews, and observations were used to evaluate the success of this project. Science teachers who participated in the SSI professional development reported increases in reform-related teaching practices in the first year following the treatment, and these reported practices were sustained in the second and third years. A range of standards-based practices were reported, including having students work in small groups, doing inquiry activities, making conjectures, and exploring possible methods to solve a problem. The authors caution, however, that although differences were identified between teachers who had and had not participated in the SSI’s professional development, these differences could not be directly attributed to the intervention. They note that other reform programs were being conducted in the state and the schools, students varied from year to year, and teachers involved in the SSI may have been fundamentally different from non-SSI teachers even before they participated in the program (Kahle and Kelly, 2001b). Supovitz, Mayer, and Kahle (2000) conducted an analysis of longitudinal data on teacher use of inquiry-based instructional strategies, again in the context of the Ohio SSI. They concluded that teachers who participated in professional development “showed strong, positive, and significant growth from pre-professional development to the following spring” and that “these gains were sustained over several years following their involvement” (p. 331). More Professional Development Leads to Greater Change in Classroom Practice A number of studies found that not only does standards-based professional development result in improved classroom practice, but also that the more professional development teachers receive, the more their practice is likely to be reform-oriented. Kim et al. (2001) used the Survey of Enacted Curriculum to compare teachers in two groups—those with 16 or more hours of professional development in their subject area in the last 12 months and those with fewer than 16 hours. High PD teachers reported greater use of multiple assessment strategies (extended response, performance tasks, portfolios, and systematic observation of students) than Low PD teachers. However, the study found no difference between the two groups in the amount of instructional time devoted to: (1) using science equipment and measuring tools, (2) changing something in an experiment to see what will happen, (3) designing ways to solve a problem, or (4) making predictions, guesses, or hypotheses. Similar results were found for a standards-based elementary science reform effort entitled Science: Parents, Activities and Literature (PALs), which provided teachers experience with problem-centered inquiry. By the end of four years, 70 percent of the elementary teachers in the district had participated in the PALs program. Using student reactions to and impressions of PALs teachers as the primary barometer of the project’s success, the authors concluded that teachers may require more than two years of experience implementing a standards-based reform before changes in classroom practice are evident. A competing hypothesis is that those with more than two years of experience in PALs may simply have been early recruits (originally selected for their interest and leadership) who may have already been teaching in ways consistent with the standards prior to their involvement (Shymansky, Yore, Dunkhase, and Hand, 1998). Supovitz and Turner (2000) found a similar pattern on a larger scale. They used hierarchical linear modeling to investigate the relationship between standards-based professional development and science classroom practice in a sample of more than 3,000 K–8 teachers participating in the LSC. After adjusting for a number of school and teacher characteristics, the researchers found a strong relationship between amount of professional development and extent of inquiry-based practice. The authors report, “it was only teachers with more than two weeks of professional development who reported teaching practices and classroom cultures above average. Further, it appears that it was somewhat more difficult to change classroom culture than teaching practices; the big change in teaching practice came after 80 [hours] of professional development, while the big change in investigative culture came only after 160 [hours]” (p. 976). As part of the cross-site evaluation of the LSC, Horizon Research, Inc. found positive relationships between the extent of teachers’ participation in LSC standards-based professional development and teachers’ use of standards-based teaching practices not only in K–8 science projects, but also in 6–12 science, K–8 mathematics,
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and 6–12 mathematics projects. Teachers participating in 40 or more hours of LSC professional development scored significantly higher on both the investigative practices and investigative culture composites than teachers who had not yet participated in the LSC (Weiss, Banilower et al., 2002). In addition, LSC project evaluators conducted classroom observations of a random sample of teachers, rating the quality of each lesson using a standards-based protocol. Lessons of teachers using standards-based instructional materials were more likely to receive high ratings than lessons of teachers not using those materials. In addition, lessons of teachers who had participated in LSC professional development for a minimum of 20 hours were rated higher overall than lessons of teachers with little or no LSC professional development (Weiss, Arnold et al., 2001). Based on additional analyses of the LSC data, Pasley (2002) reported that lessons taught by teachers who had participated in at least 20 hours of LSC professional development were more likely to be judged by observers to be strong in a number of areas, including the extent to which: The mathematics/science content was significant and worthwhile Teacher-presented information was accurate There was a climate of respect for students’ ideas, questions, and contributions Students were intellectually engaged with important ideas relevant to the focus of the lesson Intellectual rigor, constructive criticism, and the challenging of ideas were valued The degree of closure or resolution of conceptual understanding was appropriate for the developmental levels/needs of the students and the purposes of the lesson The teacher’s questioning strategies were likely to enhance the development of student conceptual understanding (e.g., emphasized higher order questions, appropriately used “wait time,” identified prior [mis]conceptions). However, many teachers continue to struggle with these last three areas, with fewer than half of the lessons of treated teachers receiving high ratings on these indicators. Results of a series of case studies conducted by principal investigators of a number of LSC projects found similar results. Looking across the case studies, Pasley (2002) noted that lessons conducted by teachers who were using standards-based instructional materials, and had participated in professional development to foster appropriate use of those materials, had a number of strengths, but that they often fell short of the vision of instruction embodied in the NSES. Areas that proved problematic included using higher-order questioning to enhance student conceptual understanding and helping students make sense of the data they had collected in their inquiries. In assessing the impact of the Merck Institute for Science Education, researchers observed lessons taught by a random sample of teachers who had participated in these curriculum-based workshops (CPRE, 2000). Mean observed ratings increased from 3.44 on a seven-point scale, to 4.08 in the second year, to 4.24 in the third year, suggesting that participation in the Merck workshops leads to improvements in classroom practice. Analysis of the 25 teachers observed in the third year of the program indicated that the teachers who had attended multiple teacher workshops had significantly higher ratings than those who had attended only one workshop, although the authors note that they cannot make causal inferences since it may be that teachers with higher levels of standards-based practice were more motivated to attend the workshops. The difficulty of attributing the improvements to the professional development is highlighted further by the fact that average ratings of nonparticipants also showed improvement, which could be an indication either that participants were spreading their good practice across classrooms and/or that something other than the standards-based professional development was at work. This study also highlights the reality that the influence of standards-based materials and standards-based professional development will vary among teachers, for reasons we do not fully understand, but that likely include contextual factors such as the extent of collegiality and administrative support, as well as individual teachers’ prior knowledge of science content and experience with student-centered instruction. For example, in a CPRE study, lessons with essentially the same design (as outlined in the curriculum module), taught by teachers
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who had participated in the same standards-based workshops, varied in their quality of implementation. Many of the introductory lessons used a KWL chart technique, where students talk about what they already know (K), what they want to know (W), as a basis for later talking about what they have learned (L). In some lessons, teachers probed for meaning; in other cases they simply made long lists of what the students said. Similarly, some teachers were far more adept than others in capitalizing on prior student knowledge and in relating the particular questions under investigation to bigger unit ideas (CPRE, 2000). Although differences in instructional practice cannot be causally attributed to teachers’ professional development, the overall consistency of the findings suggests that when teachers participate in professional development aligned with the NSES, such experiences are likely to have a positive impact on making their classrooms more like the vision embodied in the NSES. Furthermore, the more involved teachers are with the reform effort (e.g., the more professional development they have), the more their classroom practice is likely to be reform oriented. Observed Classroom Practice Does Not Always Support Teacher-Reported Understanding of the NSES A number of studies found that while teachers report an understanding of and agreement with reform philosophy, and claim that their teaching is standards-based, classroom observations sometimes indicated substantial departures from the practice advocated by national standards, suggesting that these results be interpreted with caution. For example, Spillane and Zeuli (1999) administered items from the TIMSS teacher questionnaire to identify 25 teachers who reported reform-oriented practice. Observations found some evidence of “reform-oriented” practice in all of the classrooms, including an emphasis on mathematical problem solving, using manipulatives, and making connections to the real world. However, only four of the 25 teachers were implementing these practices consistent with the reform vision, where “mathematical tasks were set up to help students grasp and grapple with principled mathematical knowledge that represented doing mathematics as conjecturing, problem-solving, and justifying ideas (and where discourse norms) supported attention to principled mathematical knowledge and represented mathematical work as more than computation” (p. 19). Likewise, Huinker and Coan (1999) describe site visits to schools involved in the Milwaukee Urban Systemic Initiative, from which they concluded that “much instruction in mathematics and science was not standards-based” (p. 38), despite the impression of the majority of interviewed middle and elementary teachers that their instruction was somewhat or mostly aligned with the standards. Similarly, von Driel et al. (2001) reported that studies focusing on the implementation of reform approaches in classroom practice reveal, “when teachers are asked to put an innovation into practice, problems are reported in all studies” (p. 148). A common example was inconsistency between teachers’ expressed belief in standards-consistent classroom activities and their actual behavior in the classroom, which may be more or less traditional. A similar finding emerged from a series of case studies examining the quality of implementation of standards-based instructional materials by teachers who had participated in LSC professional development around those materials. Most teachers appeared to be using the materials with students at a “mechanical level,” incorporating some of the specific strategies used in the professional development. The studies noted that the extent to which the implementation promoted student engagement with the concepts in the modules was limited; the teachers typically did not ask higher-level questions and often did not help students see the meaning behind the particular activities or how these activities fit into the “big picture” of the unit (Pasley, 2002). It is important to note that there is a tension built into the NSES themselves. There is a decided emphasis on science inquiry in the NSES, with students pursuing answers to their own questions, but at the same time there is a considerable amount of disciplinary content to be addressed, and it is difficult to do justice to all of it in the time available. Although there appears to be a widely held, common interpretation of “ideal” standards-based instruction, it is difficult to imagine a teacher implementing that ideal in his or her lessons consistently over time and still “covering” all of the designated content. Consequently, classroom observations do not necessarily provide more reliable data than teacher self-report does; for example, when viewing videotaped lessons where
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students were investigating questions of their choosing with inadequate controls, observers had different interpretations of the quality. Some saw these lessons as exemplary, assuming the teacher would use the inconsistent results as a springboard for discussion the next day, and then repeat the experiments more carefully. Others considered these lessons a waste of time, and worse, worried that calling this type of activity “science” would lead to misconceptions about the nature of the scientific enterprise (Horizon Research, Inc., 2000). While it is, of course, possible to interview teachers about how a single observed lesson fits into the sequence of instruction, or to observe a long enough sequence to judge for oneself, it is often not practical to do so, and certainly not for large numbers of teachers. As a result, there is likely to be a great deal of uncertainty about the extent of permeation of the NSES in classroom instruction. Standards-Based Practices Are Often Layered onto or Blended in with Traditional Instruction Several studies have found that teachers tend to incorporate standards-based ideas piecemeal, often using some reform strategies and activities but not doing so consistently or coherently. Louisiana’s Statewide Systemic Initiative provided professional development to prepare teachers to practice high-quality mathematics and science instruction as described by NCTM and AAAS standards documents. Evaluators reported that while some teachers are able to implement the reforms in their classrooms, “more often, teachers understand the changes conceptually, but are uncomfortable applying them in the classroom. Others are enthusiastically trying new things in the classroom, but do not seem to grasp what the changes are about” (Breckenridge and Goldstein, 1998, p. 25). Other studies have found that teachers tend to blend standards-based practices with traditional practices already used in their classrooms. In one such study, Cohen and Hill (2000) examined the link between instructional policy and reform-oriented classroom practice in California. Teachers were asked about their familiarity with the leading reform ideas, their opportunities to learn about improved mathematics instruction, and their mathematics teaching. Survey items about teaching practice consisted of how much time teachers invested in conventional mathematics practices and “framework practices,” which the authors defined as “activities more closely keyed to practices that reformers wish to see in classrooms” (p. 302). Results from the survey suggested, “teachers’ opportunities to learn about reform do affect their knowledge and practices.” Teachers reported practice that was significantly closer to aims of the policy “when those [learning] opportunities were situated in curriculum that was designed to be consistent with the reforms, and which their students studied” (Cohen and Hill, 2000, p. 329). However, few teachers in the sample “wholly abandoned their past mathematics instruction and curriculum to embrace those offered by reformers. Rather, the teachers who took most advantage of new learning opportunities blended new elements into their practice while reducing their reliance on some older practices” (Cohen and Hill, 2000, p. 331). Survey data collected as part of an evaluation of the Michigan State Systemic Initiative (Goertz and Carver, 1998) indicated that the majority of teachers were incorporating hands-on activities, manipulatives, problem-solving, and calculators in instruction, but far fewer had student-led discussions or asked students to write, reflect, or design solutions to real-world problems. In short, “teachers appear[ed] to be layering … more constructivist approaches on top of more traditional techniques” (p. 27). Additional evidence of this blending of old and new practice comes from studies of reform in several states conducted by the CPRE (Wilson and Floden, 2001). The researchers reported that classroom practice reflected a balance between traditional and standards-based practices. Most instruction “remained more familiar than new, more ordinary than challenging” (p. 214), but reform-oriented practices were often woven into the lessons. For example, many mathematics teachers used manipulatives to help students understand algorithms. Teachers reported that they asked students to write about how to solve mathematics problems fairly frequently, but computation and memorization remained much more common practices. “The blend was of old and new, a ‘balance’ that tilted more toward the traditional (memorization, phonics, basic skills instruction) in the lower grades, with slightly more variation in the higher grades” (p. 208). Similarly, reporting on the progress of the Children Achieving project, Simon et al. (1998) identified three
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categories of teaching practice: (1) traditional (passive learner), (2) transitional, and (3) constructivist (active learner). Based on their observations, they report the predominant mode of instruction in Philadelphia’s classrooms was transitional. These teachers mixed their instructional activities, relying on traditional practices, but infrequently using some techniques associated with constructivism (small-group activities, open-ended discussions, exploring alternatives ways of addressing problems, seeing reference to the “real” world in the work, and journal writing). Only seven out of 58 teachers were rated as constructivists. Contextual Factors Affect the NSES Implementation Research has indicated that while standards-based professional development may be effective, the implementation of standards-based practice is a complicated process affected by other aspects of the educational system. Teachers face a number of obstacles in trying to implement standards-based instruction, including the extra demands of inquiry-based science instruction, and the need to prepare students for high-stakes tests that are not aligned with standards. In a case study of the New York SSI, for example, Humphrey and Carver (1998) reported “teachers in the R&D schools fell along a continuum of practice: from understanding and implementing inquiry-based approaches [to mathematics, science, and technology], to understanding but struggling with implementation, to not necessarily understanding nor trying to implement change” (p. 26). They concluded, “despite efforts to have standards guide reform activities at the research and demonstration schools, change was more dependent on local contextual factors than on state policies” (p. v). The Partnership for Reform Initiatives in Science and Mathematics (PRISM), the Kentucky SSI, found that tests influence implementation of standards-based practice. This reform effort focused on preparing cadres of teacher-leaders who were expected to develop inquiry-based curriculum, train their peers to implement constructivist pedagogy, and act regionally as advocates of reform. The effects of PRISM on classroom practice were reported based on a Kentucky Science and Technology Council (KSTC) survey of PRISM-trained and non-PRISM-trained teachers in 108 schools as well as in a three-year case study of 10 schools conducted by Corcoran and Matson (1998). Results from the KSTC survey found that PRISM-trained teachers were less likely to depend on textbooks, more likely to use activity-centered science, more confident about teaching science, and more willing to coach others. Corcoran and Matson’s study supported these findings, adding that the pressures of testing had a large influence on how science was taught. They reported that teachers were “most likely to use inquiry and other hands-on methods if they were aligned with the test or if they taught in an untested grade” (p. 31). Results of another study also suggested that assessments that are aligned with the standards may actually aid the reform effort, rather than acting as a constraint. As noted earlier, Stecher et al. (1998) studied the impact of Kentucky’s high-stakes, standards-based assessment (KIRIS) on classroom practice. KIRIS was created in 1991 as part of a broader reform effort, the Kentucky Educational Reform Act (KERA). While teachers still used both standards-based and traditional practices after the implementation of the standards-based assessment, a large majority increased their use of standards-based approaches. The greatest increases in use were reported for asking open-response questions with many right answers; giving examples of real-world applications of mathematics skills; demonstrating mathematical ideas using objects, constructions, etc.; and showing connections between mathematics and other subjects. Teachers reported spending an increased amount of time assessing students’ mathematical skills and frequently using open-response tasks similar to those on KIRIS. Multiple-choice tests were rarely used. Shields et al. (1998) reported on the impacts of mathematics and science Statewide Systemic Initiatives (SSIs) on classroom practice from 1991–1996. This report contained an analysis of case studies from 25 SSIs and included surveys, classroom observations, and teacher interviews in 12 states. The researchers found that across the SSIs, there was general agreement on the problems in mathematics and science instruction, and the reforms in curriculum and instructional strategies that would move students from a passive to a more interactive role in learning were desired. While SSIs differed in their approaches to achieving these reforms, most worked on short-term strategies of improving a select cadre of teachers and schools through intense professional
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development and the development of new curricula as well as long-term strategies of aligning state and local policies and creating an educational infrastructure to support long-term reforms. The extent to which the SSIs were successful in improving classroom practice varied. The authors reported that 11 of the 25 studied SSIs showed “strong” positive impacts on classroom practice, which meant that there was “reasonable evidence of changes in curriculum and instruction toward more inquiry-based learning, in line with state and national standards” (p. v). High-quality and targeted reform methods demonstrated the most positive impacts on classroom practice, although those impacts were moderate. The impacts on SSI teachers varied tremendously, with more teachers demonstrating a positive shift in attitudes toward reform strategies than actually translating them into positive changes in classroom practice. However, there were a few teachers who were able to successfully and consistently practice classroom strategies consistent with national standards. The researchers concluded that the difference in impacts of the SSIs on classroom practice had less to do with the overall strategy than with the characteristics of the design and implementation of that strategy. They noted that reform efforts were more likely to create a positive influence on classrooms when teachers received high-quality professional development, long-term support, and access to quality instructional materials. The more support, the greater the chances for improvement in classroom practice. As described in the preceding pages, there is a large body of research on science instruction and the impact of standards-based interventions on classroom practice. The review of the literature indicates that, overall, science teaching has remained quite stable since before the NSES were introduced. Teachers who participate in standards-based professional development often report increased use of standards-based practices, and classroom observations have provided supporting evidence for that impact. At the same time, classroom observations reveal a wide range of quality of implementation among teachers who consider themselves to be using standards-based instruction. Observers have found that teachers tend to implement “features” of the reform, such as encouraging students to pose their own questions and using hands-on data collection activities, but they are less likely to help students make sense out of the data they collect. In many cases, standards-based practices are layered on to or blended in with traditional instruction. Finally, it is clear that a number of contextual factors affect the likelihood and quality of implementation of standards-based teaching practice. CONCLUSION The purpose of this review was to compile and interpret evidence from the research literature on teachers’ attitudes toward the NSES, how well prepared they are to implement instruction, and how the content and pedagogy in science classrooms compare with the vision of science instruction embodied in the NSES. A picture of the NSES influence is beginning to emerge. Nationally, a majority of teachers report agreement with the vision of science education in the NSES. Certain interventions, particularly professional development in the context of systemic reform, appear to increase teachers’ agreement with the NSES. At the same time, teachers express concerns about the extra time and effort it takes to plan and implement standards-based instruction. Moreover, it is not clear what teachers’ “agreement” with the NSES means, e.g., whether they are referring to the content advocated in the NSES, the pedagogy, or both. There appears to be a variety of interpretations among teachers, including the notion that the NSES require only minor shifts in beliefs and practices. Based on this review, preparedness of teachers for standards-based science instruction is a major issue. Areas of concern include inadequate content preparedness, and inadequate preparation to select and use instructional strategies for standards-based science instruction. Teachers who participate in standards-based professional development often report increased preparedness and increased use of standards-based practices, such as taking students’ prior conceptions into account when planning and implementing science instruction. However, classroom observations reveal a wide range of quality of implementation among those teachers. While most teachers report being familiar with the NSES, the literature also suggests that there is a lack of deep knowledge and no consensus among teachers regarding implications for their practice. As a result, implementation of the reform appears inconsistent. For example, observers have found that teachers tend to implement “features” of the reform, such as encouraging students to pose their own questions and using hands-on
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activities, but then may move rapidly from data collection to conclusions without giving students time to make sense of the data themselves. Such layering of standards-based approaches on existing practice may be the result of professional development experiences that were neither extensive nor focused enough to bring about deep understanding of the reform and fundamental shifts in classroom practice. Inconsistent implementation of the reform is reflected in contradictions within teachers’ self-reports of their beliefs and practices, as well as between teacher self-reports and independent observations of classroom practice. In addition to a lack of adequate professional development, factors within and external to the NSES can make it difficult for teachers to align their practice to the vision of the reform. On the one hand, the NSES advocate hands-on/inquiry-based instructional strategies and a “less is more” approach to content. At the same time, the sheer number of topics in the NSES exerts pressure simply to “cover” the content, a stress only magnified in those instances where externally mandated science achievement tests come into play. It is important to note that there are a number of limitations both in individual studies identified in this search and in the research base as a whole that make it difficult to assess the impact of the NSES at this juncture. Quite a few of the studies are correlational in nature, which further complicates attempts at attribution. Only a few of the studies are based on nationally representative samples, and there is generally only limited information provided about the samples and how they were selected. In addition, only a few studies report information about the magnitude of the results (i.e., effect sizes). As a result, while the literature provides some sense of the nature of the influence of the NSES, there is little information about the extent of that influence, and who is being affected. As the Framework for Investigating the Influence of the Standards states: Given the complex and interactive nature of the territory within which standards have been enacted, a mosaic of evidence from many different types of studies is more likely to build overall understanding of the influence of standards than the results of a few purportedly comprehensive studies. (NRC, 2002 p. 94) To meet this challenge, more research is needed that is purposefully designed to answer questions about the influence of standards and that meets “standards of evidence, quality of measurement, and appropriateness of research design” (p. 89). In addition to using measures of demonstrated validity and reliability in all of these studies, at least some of the research will need to use nationally representative samples. Finally, fuller reporting of research results is needed, including both positive and negative findings, and including effect sizes so that the magnitude as well as the direction of effects can be judged and meaningful cross-study comparisons and meta-analyses can be conducted (Thompson, 2002). Given the relative newness of the NSES, it is not surprising that few of the studies identified in the literature search were designed specifically to assess their impact; many studies addressed standards-based reform more generally. In addition, as the Framework suggests, the multiple entry points for the NSES to potentially influence the system make it difficult to trace the impacts of the NSES (NRC, 2002). A major question that remains is what science is actually being taught in the nation’s K–12 classrooms. No comprehensive picture of the science content that is actually delivered to students exists. This lack of information on what science is being taught in classrooms, both before the NSES and since, makes it very difficult to assess the extent of influence of the NSES on teaching practice. Studies such as those employing the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum (Blank et al., 2001) conducted using nationally representative samples, combined with a judicious number of observations to validate the findings, would help in determining the extent of alignment of instruction to the content standards. Another major question that remains regarding teaching practice related to the NSES is whether the combination of traditional and standards-based beliefs and practices is an interim step in teachers’ progress toward more fully standards-based practice. If so, the research seems to suggest that further progress requires: (1) specific attention to what constitutes standards-based science education in terms of both content and pedagogy through professional development, and (2) communicating a consistent vision of standards-based science education through alignment and quality control of policies and administrative actions that guide instruction.
Representative terms from entire chapter: