By: Criss Livingston MA
STEM Education Consultant
In the United States, K-12 science teachers must adhere to rigid state standards that their students are tested and evaluated on as required by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. These standards are designed to teach the core science concepts at specific grade levels. While individual states design the standards, classroom teachers are responsible for implementing them. Many teachers have limited time frames (in the day and for the year) to teach the abundance of science concepts. Due to the limited amount of time, most teachers are rushed to complete the material and find they are unable to go in depth with a concept or explore it further. Also, many aspects of a concept can be often overlooked or left out completely. Experiments and lab time which are important to science because they teach the scientific methods and critical thinking skills are left out. Teaching without going in depth can produce students who are test savvy, but do not have complex problem solving skills.
Science standards are needed to keep pace in the global markets. Some time ago, the United States became concerned about lagging behind their international peers in the science field. In 1995, the National Science Education Standards (NSES) were produced and published in 1996; however these were not accepted by the state legislatures and boards as their state standards. As established by the National Research Council, the NSES are guidelines for the science education in primary and secondary schools in the United States. Currently, there are no National Standards.
The STEM Ed team has discovered that by not having National Science Standards, the United States lacks consistency of science standards from state to state. Currently, each state’s Department of Education develops, writes, and publishes standards of science education which they believe should be taught.
For example, in Virginia, a fourth grader may be studying photosynthesis while a student in Alaska will not learn about photosynthesis until the sixth grade. See: Photosynthesis Table. This is just one of the many problems the STEM Education Center discovered when we created our grade level stratification or GLS terms based on state standards
Another example: The concept of “battery” is not listed in the Alaska or Arizona standards, but becomes an implied term when teaching electricity. While students in California begin learning about the concept of battery in the third grade and continue building upon it in the fourth grade and again in the High School. See: Battery Table.
The STEM Ed team has spent the last few years looking at state standards and analyzing their science concepts to find similarities and differences. Because different states teach the same concept at different grades, it is difficult to compare state test results among the fifty states.
For more information on the Science behind the GLS, please see the STEM Ed’s website: www.stemed.info