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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy
These recommendations are interrelated. States require strong leadership for coordination in all aspects of standards-based reform. Instructional materials, especially textbooks, are the primary tools used by many teachers and seen by most parents as fundamental resources for student learning. They contribute to the curriculum, broadly defined, through their organization and delivery of content. Teachers are seen by most reformers as the central agent in promoting high-quality mathematics and science education for all students. Effective assessment can be simultaneously a tool for improving curriculum and teaching and for measuring progress toward the goal of achieving rigorous standards for all students. Together, the five overarching recommendations listed above form a whole that can best be coordinated around standards, with each piece requiring attention and action separately. The recommendations have potential value for all disciplines and could gain more support if applied across the entire system, not just in science and mathematics.
Making a set of recommendations for state policy may imply that states are all alike, and this is not true indeed. From state to state, the mechanisms of governance are different, as are the responsibilities taken on at the state level. States have many vehicles for promoting improvement of education, including regulation, support, and persuasive power. States combine these in unique ways, depending on their structures, traditions, and resources. As a consequence, it has been a challenge of this report to make recommendations that are not so global as to be unattainable, but that are specific enough to be useful to most states in spite of their differences. In addition to being as specific as possible, this report includes a number of examples of how individual states and others are approaching some of the recommendations.11
In these ways, this report seeks to provide some practical guidance for state policy as states increase their efforts toward standards-based reform in mathematics and science.
Recommendation 1.State Infrastructure
Strengthen the state infrastructure for improvement in mathematics and science education with coherent, focused standards and with the policies, structures, and resources to support their achievement.
International studies and the efforts of states to bring about systemic reform have underlined the need for a strong state infrastructure focused on improvement (Elmore, 1996; O'Day, Goertz, & Floden, 1995). This recommendation addresses the importance of focusing all elements in the system on the achievement of high-quality state standards. Policies guiding education, funding programs, and state procedures all must be coordinated and directed toward this common goal. The theme for state capacity building and indeed all of the recommendations in this report is, as stated succinctly by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, "get serious about standards [emphasis added]" (1996).
In order to get serious about standards, states need to go beyond their statutory duties of creating their own standards, curriculum frameworks, assessment systems, etc. and include mechanisms for ongoing learning about the standards in every one of their activities. Understanding of the standards is needed by every state official as well as the many stakeholders who participate on state committees and development efforts.12 Conscious efforts to provide professional development build the capacity to fulfill the current state role as well as plan effectively for the
Throughout this section we have provided examples of how some states are implementing all or part of a recommendation. These were chosen not because they are exemplary per se, but because they represent interesting ways to address the issues that are raised. We do not have extensive data about the effectiveness of these strategies.
Note that useful materials promoting awareness and stimulating discussion of mathematics and science standards have been developed by the Annenberg/CPB Math and Science Project.