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New national standards for science outline big changes in integrating engineering and technology into the science curriculum, as well as a stronger emphasis on biological evolution and global climate change.
The final draft of guidelines known as Next Generation Science Standards were released last Tuesday in a 95-page guide to performance expectations for students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
According to a press release from the Kentucky Department of Education, the Next Generation Science Standards have been in development for the past two years and were compiled with the collaboration of scientists, educators and engineers from 26 states including Kentucky.
Core concepts such as engineering and technology are to be integrated in science courses to “reflect the interconnected nature of the science as it is practiced and experienced” and to prepare Kentucky students to be more college and career-ready in related fields, according to KDE.
The guidelines — which are voluntary and can be chosen for adoption on a state-by-state basis — are the first broad educational science requirements for the nation in more than 15 years.
Next Generation Science Standards are meant to serve as guidelines, not as mandated curriculum, though they meet do the standards for science as outlined in Senate Bill 1, and Kentucky’s current accountability model Unbridled Learning.
“It’s not a huge change in that respect,” Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said of the inclusion of evolution in student curriculum. “That’s [evolution] not a totally new concept.”
Evolution is currently a part of Kentucky’s science standards, Rodriguez said, the topic being introduced in some areas at the elementary level.
The new standards shift some of the concepts on biological change and evolution to begin at the middle school level, she said.
In the standards’ performance expectations for the life science unit titled “Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity,” “Students can construct explanations based on evidence to support fundamental understandings of natural selection and evolution. They can use ideas of genetic variation in a population to make sense of organisms surviving and reproducing, hence passing on the traits of the species.”
Climate change would be a new concept for middle school science instruction in Kentucky if the state education department adopts the Next Generation Science Standards, Rodriguez said.
The Next Generation Science Standards do not reflect a specific district’s curriculum, according to Rodriguez; curriculum changes would be up to districts to develop based on guidance from KDE.
But if the Kentucky Board of Education approves the standards, it would become a part of the Kentucky curriculum, Superintendent Sheila Mitchell and Instructional Supervisor Sharon Jackman said in an e-mail interview.
K-PREP, state tests taken at the elementary and middle school levels and used to assess achievement for accountability, is developed using these state standards.
“In order to have a firm opinion on the science standards, in-depth understanding is needed,” Mitchell and Jackman said via e-mail in response to a question about the standards taking a firm stance on evolution and the addition of global climate change. “Teachers and administrators need time to review and study the standards to understand the meanings. The Kentucky Department of Education has not officially started their deconstruction of standards as they are on the June agenda for final approval. Once they are approved and KDE begins their work, the school districts will have more in-depth understanding of the concept expectations/meaning of the standards.”
The guidelines are to be reviewed by the Kentucky Board of Education in a second reading in June, Rodriguez said.
If adopted, then the Next Generation Science Standards would move through a regulatory process including public reading and public hearings before state legislative committees.
The science standards are scheduled to be implemented by the 2014-2015 school year with the first assessments given by Spring 2015, according to KDE.
Find the new science guidelines online
The Next Generation Science Standards guidelines can be found in a complete, 95-page pdf at www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards.
Readers can search for science instruction topics by students’ grade level or by disciplinary core ideas (DCI) such as ‘Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity,’ ‘Engineering Design’ or ‘Earth and Human Activity.’