Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Proposed Kansas science standards criticized for lack of depth

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

An education professor who trains biology teachers at Emporia State University says proposed new science standards being considered in Kansas could mean students will no longer be taught certain disciplines.

"At the secondary level in the standards, there is no zoology for animals, no botany for plants," said ESU professor Richard Schrock. "No anatomy or physiology, no microbiology."

Schrock made his criticisms as the Kansas State Board of Education was about to review the final draft of the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed by 21 states including Kansas, and which supporters hope will become a national model for science education.

Schrock said he was concerned that if Kansas adopts the new standards, and statewide tests are written around them, teachers will be pressured to "teach to the test" and will no longer spend time on any subjects not specifically covered in the standards.

"If we've learned anything from the last 12 years with the No Child Left Behind curriculum in math and English, it's that the teacher looks immediately to see what can they can justify, what do they need to do."

Supporters of the proposed new standards say that's an overstatement, that those subjects would still be covered, although not in the same way.

They argue that the focus would shift to more broad, general scientific principles, and teaching students how to use the scientific method to learn and understand things on their own.

"We believe, and the research backs this up, that this can lead to deeper learning and better learning," said Paul Adams, director of the Fort Hays State University Science and Mathematics Education Institute who served on the Kansas writing committee.

"It may not address all the facts you need, but if I give you the skills to go and learn those and give you the foundation, you're going to be able to learn what you need to learn, as it's needed," Adams said.

The state board could vote on whether to adopt the science standards as early as June.

Matt Krehbiel, the science program consultant at the State Department of Education who led the Kansas committee on the project, said if the board adopts the new standards, the next step will be to develop new standardized tests to go along with them.

Kansas tests students in science each year in fourth grade, seventh grade, and once in high school.