Science standards measure thinking

-A A +A

District deconstructing, learning more about new standards that will be implemented fully next year

By Todd Martin

Teachers and administrators are hard at work studying how best to implement the new and somewhat controversial Next Generation Science Standards in Shelby County.

However, Superintendent James Neihof has noted that the changes will not be as difficult in Shelby County as they may be elsewhere, where they have been debated somewhat heatedly.

“Really, we were really already doing many of these things,” he said.

The standards were approved by the Kentucky Board of Education in June and then put into affect early last month through an executive decision by Gov. Steve Beshear after a legislative committee voted, 5-1, against the changes. The General Assembly has the ability to reconsider the issue during the 2014 session, but it’s unclear if it will.

The standards, which were created in partnership with 26 states, provide elements of study for kindergarten through senior year and focus on five topics: Elementary, kindergarten-through-fifth-grade expectations; and middle- and high-school standards in Physical Science, Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences and Engineering Technology and Applications of Sciences.

For instance, according to the standards for elementary school, “students in kindergarten through fifth grade will begin to develop an understanding of the four disciplinary core ideas: physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology and applications of science.”

Then, throughout middle and high school, lessons will expand on each of those topics. In high school there are five life science topics – Structure and Function, Inheritance and Variation of Traits; Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems; Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems; and Natural Selection and Evolution.

This process isn’t new, but it follows the Common Core Standards process being used to implement all the new standards.

Susan Dugle, curriculum coordinator for the district, said the difference in the standards isn’t so much the content but the way it’s put together.

“In the past we’ve been given the content, and then we had to figure out how to teach it,” she said. “For instance, in the current system we’re told that at the end of third grade a student should know this, but it was up to us to decide when we should teach each level of that standard.

“Now, the big change is that the standard is outlined for each grade level, and we know what we need to teach and what students need to know to show mastery at each level. And it builds upon itself at each level, so in high school students are coming up with their own ideas to research and answer.”

Although the new standards don’t go into affect until the 2014-15 school year, the district is beginning to work with them as best officials can.

 “We’re incorporating what can now,” said Ryan Allen, public relations coordinator for the district. “Teachers and administrators are already deconstructing the standards to see how they can fit into our current curriculum. What really helps is that all the new standards lend themselves to blending in across curriculum. So when we are building units within a particular standard it opens up the possibilities to incorporate other items, whether it’s reading, math, science or social studies.”

Some groups have been critical of the standards, questioning their rigor and focus on areas such as climate changes and evolution. The state’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee voted down the standards before Gov. Beshear overruled them.

“We try to have as rigorous a curriculum as we can,” Allen said. “The standards are a guide and certainly mastery of those standards is a benchmark we strive to meet, but there is nothing to stop us from going deeper and broader within those standards with our students.”

But even though the standards will be required next year, Dugle said an assessment might not be ready.

“We’ll have full implementation next year, but all we know now is that an assessment will follow,” she said. “They don’t have a set time on when it will begin, but it [the state] is working on it now. It’s very different than what we have currently because they have to figure out a way to measure how kids are thinking, not just the facts they’ve learned throughout the year.”