National Science Standards - An Update
James H. Stith
Background-- In the spring of 1991, the Board of Directors
of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the presidents
of several scientific societies, the United States Secretary of Education,
the Assistant Director for Education and Human Resources of NSF, and
the Co-Chairs of the National Education Goals Panel requested that
the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Science
take the lead in developing National Science Standards.
In the fall of 1991, Secretary Alexander announced a grant to the
NRC to initiate the design and development of the standards. Dr. James
D. Ebert, Vice President of the National Academy of Sciences was named
Chair of the National Committee on science Education Standards and
Assessment (NCSESA). The NRC's Coordination Council for Education (CCE)
developed timelines, recruited staff, and identified individuals to
serve on NCSSESA and the working groups. The Chair's Advisory Committee
(CAC), made up of representatives from various professional societies,
was formed to provide regular advice to Ebert and to act as liaisons
to their respective constituencies. Members of NCSESA and the three
working groups (Teaching, Assessment, and Content (previously called
Curriculum) were selected from a large pool of qualified persons to
provide varied expertise in science disciplines, teaching experiences,
scholarly research, and practical experience in schools. For example,
approximately one-third of the members of the national committee and
working groups are practicing teachers at the level for which the standards
are being designed.
In the fall of 1993, Dr. Richard Klausner of NIH replaced Ebert as
Chair of NCSESA, and Dr. Angelo Collins of Florida State University
was named director of the project. What are science standards? The
goal of the three working groups is to write proposed standards which
would for the first time link three of the vital functions of education:
assessment, content, and teaching. The following excerpts are taken
from the charge to each working group: "Science curriculum standards
are narrative descriptions of what students should understand and be
able to do in science and its applications. These learning outcomes--
what students should understand and be able to do-- are the criteria
by which curriculum, learning opportunities, and assessment can be
judged..." "Science teaching standards are criteria which will be used
to guide the development and/or selection of teaching and learning
strategies to achieve curriculum standards. They recommend appropriate
alternative approaches which can be used to make qualitative judgments
Assessment standards are the criteria used for guiding the development
and implementation of student assessment and programs evaluations. These
standards will establish the qualitative criteria for judging student
understanding and competence with regard to curriculum standards. The
charge to the working committee on assessment standards is to examine
the role of assessment in the science education system and develop standards
that will drive the system in
productive and socially responsible ways..."
- --the design or selection of science teaching strategies;
- --the development, selection, or adaptation of instructional materials;
- --the professional development, preparation, and practice of teachers;
- --the provision of various opportunities to achieve the outcomes
described in the curriculum standards."
In designing curriculum standards, the goal is not to define specific
curricula, syllabi or courses of study. Teaching standards are not intended
to be descriptions of the best way to teach or learn. Assessment standards
are not intended to produce an actual test.
Of particular interest to the physics community is the fact that science
standards reflect what all students are expected to know at the end of
grade 12. They are not designed to reflect the physics, chemistry or biology
taught in the traditional high school course. Discipline specific courses
will be able to build better courses based on the knowledge that students
bring from their previous K-?? experience.
Additionally, science standards are not a statement of what is, but what
can be, reflecting the goals to which the community aspires. Standards
that, for example, recognize that the rural student in West Virginia has
different background and experiences than the inner-city student in Boston.
The goal is to develop science programs with sufficient flexibility that
local school districts can each build a curriculum best matched to the
experiences of the students involved.
The working principles adopted by NCSESA represent a vision that science
should become a central part of the school day. It is crucial that curriculum,
teaching, and assessment be treated as integral parts of a whole. Not only,
for example, do we need to be concerned about content, but we must assess
attitudes as well. Assessing attitudes is difficult, but too important
Current status-- In May 1994, the NRC released a Pre-Draft of
Standards for review by selected individuals who had been involved in some
way with the overall Standards project. This group included the NCSESA
Committee, members of each of the working groups, focus groups formed by
each member of the Chair's advisory Committee, and focus groups representing
many professional societies having liaisons to the project. Additionally,
a group of K-12 teachers, having no prior "direct" contact with the project,
were asked to review and comment on the Pre- Draft.
In the area of physics, the AAPT Task Force on National Science Education
Standards (Carol-Ann Tripp, Chair) was joined by members of the APS Committee
on Education in evaluating the Pre-Draft. Committee members did individual
reviews that were then compiled by a smaller group, representing both AAPT
and APS, which submitted a final report to NCSESA.
Over 75 groups provided input to NCSESA on the standards. During the
summer of '94, the Pre-Draft underwent intense review and restructuring
in response to the science community input. It is anticipated that draft
standards will be released for extensive public review some time in late
fall 1994 and that the final document will be available in 1995.
The draft will open with a "Call to Arms" building the case for standards,
and a "Reader's Guide" which provides suggestions on how to read and use
the document. Chapters on System Standards, Program Standards, Teaching
and Professional Development Standards, Assessment Standards, and Content
Standards are included. The Standards will be further subdivided by grade
levels K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. It should be stressed that the sub-group boundaries
are not firm; i.e., standards which are identified as the upper edge of
K-4 could as well be identified as the lower range of grades 5-8.
Physics community input is needed! As mentioned above, in late
fall of 1994, the draft of "National Science Education standards" will
become available for broad evaluation and review by members of the scientific
community. The NRC, which expects to print 30,000 copies, hopes for as
wide a dissemination as possible. The AAPT/APS focus group will again review
and evaluate the draft and provide input to NCSESA.
Individual members of the physics community are invited to help broaden
the review process by joining with local school systems and other programs
to form focus groups. While individual comments are always appreciated,
at this stage in the process, NCSESA is anxious to receive input from groups
that are representative of as broad a spectrum of those concerned and affected
You may obtain copies of the Draft by writing to:
You may also send an e-mail request to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If multiple copies are desired, NRC requests that you send a list of the
people to whom you expect to make distribution. This list should be both
in hard copy and on a computer disk.
National Research Council
2101 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20418
If National Science Standards are to have a positive impact, they must
be supported by administrators, teachers and parents. It is my belief that
the Standards must integrate teaching assessment and content. We must insure
that the document is scientifically correct and that it distinguishes between
the essential and the peripheral in the curriculum while reflecting the
theory and practice of today's pedagogy. The document should also establish
an attainable solid core of common understanding for each student in each
science while empowering teachers rather than limiting them. Finally, the
entire community should be able to use the document with trust, confidence,
understanding, and with ease.
James H. Stith is Professor of Physics at Ohio State University in
Columbus, Ohio. He was formerly a faculty member at the United States
Military Academy, and he served as President of AAPT during 1992.