NRC and the National Standards for Science Education

The National Science Education Standards were written in response to a nationally recognized need for goals and standards that could improve the quality of science education for all students. Support for national standards by state governments originated in 1989, when the nation's governors and President Bush established six national education goals, which were adopted by Congress and later expanded to a total of eight goals. In 1994, Congress enacted the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and formed the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) to support and monitor progress toward the goals.

Several important events preceded the development of the science standards. In the 1980s, several organizations developed innovative instructional materials. Among these were the American Chemical Society, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), the Education Development Center, the Lawrence Hall of Science, the National Science Resources Center, and the Technical Education Resources Center. In 1989, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), through its Project 2061, published Science for All Americans (AAAS, 1989), defining scientific literacy for all high school graduates. Three years later, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), through its Scope, Sequence, and Coordination Project, published The Content Core (1992).

In 1991, the National Research Council (NRC) was formally asked by the president of NSTA to assume a leading role in developing national standards for science education. The NRC was encouraged by leaders of several other science and science education associations, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the NEGP The effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, NSF, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was led by the National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment (NCSESA), advised by the Chair's Advisory Committee of representatives of the major science education organizations, and carried out by three working groups (content, teaching, and assessment) composed of science teachers, educators, scientists, and others involved in science education. Early drafts of the NRC Standards were reviewed by numerous focus groups and additional groups of experts, plus large numbers of educators across the country. More than 40,000 copies of a complete draft were distributed in December 1994 to approximately 18,000 individuals and 250 groups for review. The comments and recommendations received from these reviewers were used to prepare the final document.

Formally released in December 1995, the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996a) define the science content that all students should know and be able to do and provide guidelines for assessing the degree to which students have learned that content. The NRC Standards detail the teaching strategies, professional development, and support necessary to deliver high-quality science education to all students. The NRC Standards also describe policies needed to bring coordination, consistency, and coherence to science education programs.

In early 1996, the NRC consolidated its education activities into the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education (the Center). The Center took on support for the new National Science Education Standards as an important priority. Because the NRC is unlike the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), an organization whose large membership is distributed throughout the United States and whose capabilities include a network of state



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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy NRC and the National Standards for Science Education The National Science Education Standards were written in response to a nationally recognized need for goals and standards that could improve the quality of science education for all students. Support for national standards by state governments originated in 1989, when the nation's governors and President Bush established six national education goals, which were adopted by Congress and later expanded to a total of eight goals. In 1994, Congress enacted the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and formed the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) to support and monitor progress toward the goals. Several important events preceded the development of the science standards. In the 1980s, several organizations developed innovative instructional materials. Among these were the American Chemical Society, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), the Education Development Center, the Lawrence Hall of Science, the National Science Resources Center, and the Technical Education Resources Center. In 1989, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), through its Project 2061, published Science for All Americans (AAAS, 1989), defining scientific literacy for all high school graduates. Three years later, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), through its Scope, Sequence, and Coordination Project, published The Content Core (1992). In 1991, the National Research Council (NRC) was formally asked by the president of NSTA to assume a leading role in developing national standards for science education. The NRC was encouraged by leaders of several other science and science education associations, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the NEGP The effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, NSF, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was led by the National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment (NCSESA), advised by the Chair's Advisory Committee of representatives of the major science education organizations, and carried out by three working groups (content, teaching, and assessment) composed of science teachers, educators, scientists, and others involved in science education. Early drafts of the NRC Standards were reviewed by numerous focus groups and additional groups of experts, plus large numbers of educators across the country. More than 40,000 copies of a complete draft were distributed in December 1994 to approximately 18,000 individuals and 250 groups for review. The comments and recommendations received from these reviewers were used to prepare the final document. Formally released in December 1995, the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996a) define the science content that all students should know and be able to do and provide guidelines for assessing the degree to which students have learned that content. The NRC Standards detail the teaching strategies, professional development, and support necessary to deliver high-quality science education to all students. The NRC Standards also describe policies needed to bring coordination, consistency, and coherence to science education programs. In early 1996, the NRC consolidated its education activities into the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education (the Center). The Center took on support for the new National Science Education Standards as an important priority. Because the NRC is unlike the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), an organization whose large membership is distributed throughout the United States and whose capabilities include a network of state

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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy affiliates who could engage in support for the mathematics standards, the Center needed its own unique strategy for supporting the science standards. That strategy, which takes advantage of the Center's position within the NRC as well as lessons learned from the NCTM experience with national standards, is elaborated in a general way in the Strategic Framework discussed earlier in this report. Within the Strategic Framework, the Center's focus has been on building awareness of the NRC Standards and support for their use throughout the country. Dissemination Dissemination of the NRC Standards has taken many forms. The document was immediately available on the World Wide Web.9 After the January 1996 publication, the NRC sent copies to all members of Congress, governors, state science and technology policy advisors, state science supervisors, NSF-funded systemic initiatives, and directors of Annenberg Challenge Sites. Following the Education Summit hosted by national business leaders in March 1996 that endorsed the need for common, clear, state and/or community-based standards, the Center provided copies of the NRC Standards to participating governors and chief executive officers along with a letter that linked the Education Summit's recommendations with the NRC Standards. The NRC Standards have been distributed to members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, and leadership of all professional organizations for science education, including the AAAS, American Association of Physics Teachers, American Chemical Society, Council of State Science Supervisors, National Association of Biology Teachers, National Association of Geology Teachers, and NSTA. This effort had the specific goal of informing the scientific and educational communities of the NRC Standards. As of June 1997, over 131,000 copies of the NRC Standards had been distributed. To further dissemination efforts, the Center recently produced a brochure, Introducing the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1997a), that describes what is in the NRC Standards and addresses typical questions about the Standards. In the months since the brochure's publication, nearly 10,000 copies have been distributed. Dissemination of the NRC Standards document has been complemented by presentations about the Standards. Over 400 presentations were made to approximately 33,000 people by approximately 100 presenters before the actual release of the Standards. Hundreds more presentations have been made since. In the fall of 1995, before the release, a series of ten regional workshops was hosted by the Center for science education leaders throughout the country. The workshops initiated a Speakers' Bureau to support participants in their efforts to disseminate the NRC Standards in their own communities. The Center assembled a presentation guide from the material shared in those workshops and distributed the guide to the 375 people who attended. The Center has worked closely with many other groups to disseminate the NRC Standards. With NRC assistance, the NSTA launched the "Building a Presence in Every School" project. The goal of this project is to place a copy of the NRC Standards in every school in the country, supported by a resource teacher within the school and a state-wide network. This program was initiated in Texas, with support from the Exxon Education Foundation. The NSTA continues to add states and sponsors to this highly ambitious effort. Other special audiences targeted for dissemination initiatives include commercial publishers of science instructional materials and parents. A convocation for publishers was held at the NAS in June 1996 to brief them on the NRC Standards and discuss ways their materials could support standards-based teaching and learning. The Center is currently producing a publication 9   Available at www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/nses/

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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy aimed at parents and the general public that sets the stage for their involvement in standards-based education by familiarizing them with rationale for standards and introducing them to the NRC Standards. Interpretation Interpretation efforts focused on curriculum and instructional materials began early and are continuing into the implementation phase. A November 1995 conference, co-sponsored by the Center and the BSCS and funded by NSF, brought together curriculum developers, state and district science educators, and teacher educators and professional developers to study the NRC Standards and their implications for curriculum development. That conference resulted in a book, National Standards and the Science Curriculum: Challenges, Opportunities, and Recommendations (Bybee, 1996). Understanding the role of assessment in standards-based education is an important interpretation issue as well. This was a focus of a conference, "Science Education Standards: The Assessment of Science Meets the Science of Assessment," sponsored by the NRC's Board on Testing and Assessment in February 1997. In addition, the NRC has had a particular interest in teacher development. At the request of NSF, the NRC developed a letter report, Science Teacher Preparation in an Era of Standards-Based Reform (1997b), that provides a vision for teacher education and professional development. The role of scientists and engineers in standards-based reform also has been a focus of the NRC. The Resources for Involving Scientists in Education (RISE) Project is completing a Web site to inform scientists and engineers who are interested in contributing to standards-based reform. Information on the Web site will include examples of how scientists have worked in various projects with teachers, schools, and districts and descriptions of the various roles scientists and engineers can play-all in an effort to help them and those with whom they work understand better their potential contributions to standards-based reform. Exploring the roles of business and industry in standards-based reform was the focus of a December 1996 forum at the NAS, entitled "How Industry Can Use the Standards to Promote School Reform," that was hosted jointly by the NAS Academy Industry Program and the Center. Past meetings have included approximately 200 business leaders and have centered on involving business and industry in the reform of science education. A publication nearing completion examines the critical issue of equity as presented in the NRC Standards. Aimed at parents and the general public, the tentatively titled Science for All Students will highlight various ways that the NRC Standards address equity and what an explicit emphasis on equity looks like in educational settings. In 1996, the NRC launched a project to engage the informal education community including museums, botanical gardens, zoos, and science and technology centers-in support of standards-based education. The central goals for the project include (1) the enhancement of existing community resources found in science museums, botanical gardens, and in other youth-serving programs through study and dialogue about the NRC Standards; and (2) the development of local action plans that build cooperation among key community constituencies through use of the NRC Standards. Borrowing a concept from the NCTM for supporting documents to accompany the Standards, the NRC is initiating a major effort to create a series of addenda that illuminate important standards, such as those addressing science as inquiry, science and technology, and the history and nature of science. These publications will provide teachers and professional developers with an understanding of the knowledge base in these areas, images of standards-based curriculum and instruction, and examples of educational resources that will help in implementing the NRC Standards.

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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy Implementation Most of the issues addressed by the Center through interpretation activities have been carried into implementation. Here the NRC has provided leadership through the development of products and the convening of groups to support state and local initiatives. To further the work in curriculum and instructional materials, for example, a conference on "Using the National Science Education Standards to Guide the Evaluation, Selection, and Adaptation of Instructional Materials" was held at the NAS in November 1996. Three hundred and fifty federal, state, and local science educators attended this meeting. A set of guidelines for aligning instructional materials with the NRC Standards is currently under development. A new project, funded by the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, will develop criteria for selection of materials and will design and pilot a process to do so with district-level teams throughout the country as they critique, select, and adapt textbooks and instructional materials for their respective districts and schools. In February 1996, the NRC and the Council of Chief State School Officers convened a symposium to explore the implementation of the NRC Standards with respect to teacher preparation and credentialing. It was designed for leaders in science education, university science deans and scientists, and state education officials responsible for teacher certification. Participants attended as part of a state team; the teams examined the NRC Standards and created action plans to further their own efforts. Proceedings of the symposium, including the state action plans, were published in Improving Teacher Preparation and Credentialing Consistent with the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996b). The NRC is currently planning collaborative efforts with associations of science leaders from states (Council of State Science Supervisors [CSSS]) and districts (National Science Education Leadership Association [NSELA]). These initiatives will explore and document the various processes that different states and districts are using to move from national standards to state frameworks and, eventually, to influence changes in textbooks and instructional materials, curriculum, assessment, and teaching. In the future, the Center plans to host a summer institute for state leaders in mathematics as well as science that will provide state teams with the opportunity to apply new understandings about national standards to their state reform initiatives. Staff of the Center will work with NSELA leadership to formulate specific directions for collaborative work. Evaluation The evaluation of the NRC Standards actually began as part of the process to establish a national consensus before the Standards were revised to their final form. Forty thousand copies of the penultimate draft were distributed for national review by individuals and groups that had expressed an interest in being part of the process. Approximately 4,000 responses were received from individuals and special focus groups; respondents included teachers (K-12 levels), science educators (district coordinators, science supervisors, curriculum developers, teacher educators), scientists (college, university, industry), policy makers (school boards, state government officials), and other role groups (business, parents)(NRC, 1995b). Among these self-selected respondents, there was significant agreement on the content in the National Science Education Standards. The survey asked for agreement with characteristics of the content standards, including the intent, consistency, developmental appropriateness, vision of good science, and clarity. Across all respondent groups, there was at least 59 percent agreement or strong agreement. In most cases, the level of agreement was much higher. Another series of questions in the national review asked about the various areas in the NRC Standards: teaching, professional development, assessment, content, program, and system. For all areas except the system standards, more than

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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy half of the respondents judged that the Standards were complete and accurate, that they would help policy makers and practitioners make decisions, and that they presented an acceptable vision. The teaching and content standards received the most supportive ratings. Respondents were asked to choose one area for which the NRC Standards were likely to have the greatest influence. Program development and evaluation, teaching practice, policy formulation, and content selection received the most votes, in that order. These are important themes in the improvement of science education and ones that the NRC had intended the Standards to influence. In January 1997, the NSTA completed a survey of 5,000 randomly selected NSTA members for their reactions to the NRC Standards (NSTA, 1997). Of the 1,900 members who responded, 87 percent were teachers. (There were no data to indicate whether those responding were representative of those surveyed.) When asked if they thought that the NRC Standards could improve the way science is taught in their classrooms, 80 percent of the teachers who answered the question responded "yes." Further, 75 percent of teachers responding thought the NRC Standards would improve the way science is taught in their schools. Very importantly, the survey asked what the teachers perceived as barriers to implementing standards in actual practice. The three top barriers cited by teachers were adequate time for planning and working with other teachers; financial support for relevant professional development; and instructional materials, resources, and facilities. Results such as these are not unexpected. Like the NRC survey results, they indicate that educators are aware of the NRC Standards and the implications for their practice. Further, they underscore that science teachers understand that critical requirements for the success of standards-based reform include time, professional development, and instructional materials. These data have influenced the work of the NRC, as described in the discussion of strategies for interpretation and implementation above. Implications for state policy are discussed in the Recommendations section of this report. The Efficacy and Influence project of the Center, mentioned earlier in the discussion of evaluation of the NCTM Standards, will serve as a guide for ongoing monitoring of science standards implementation. Revision Although the NRC Standards were released quite recently, it is never too early to begin planning for revision. From the beginning, the various advisory committees encouraged the NRC to view the Standards as a living document, one that would undergo revision at appropriate intervals. The formal process of revision for the NRC Standards will likely begin in the year 2000, for release in 2002. It will include, as before, broad participation by those involved with and interested in science education and will incorporate the lessons learned from the mathematics community's current revision of the NCTM Standards.