The Georgia Science Teachers Association is a non-profit membership association representing more than 1,300 science educators from around the state who serve students in a variety of schools, levels, and contexts. As the premier organization in the state for sharing best practices and supporting science educators, our mission is to support excellent science education for all students in the state of Georgia. Science education is becoming increasingly important to our state as our economy relies more and more heavily on careers in science and technical fields while our high schools are not producing enough graduates who are prepared to pursue these college and career opportunities. According to a recent report by the American Society of Training and Development, 60% of new jobs being created require skills that only 20% of the population has mastered.
A successful science education system depends on many people—teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members—and many supporting structures—curriculum standards, instructional practices, assessment approaches, and other policies. Georgia’s curriculum standards set the foundation upon which teachers, students, schools, and communities work to build an education that will prepare students to be responsible and productive citizens of our state after high school graduation. Historically, Georgia has taken the responsibility of adopting science curriculum standards very seriously, and our students have benefited. When our current Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) for science were adopted more than a decade ago, they represented a significant improvement over the previous Quality Core Curriculum (QCC). The GPS drew significantly on research-based documents from leading national organizations (i.e., the Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council), yet they relied on the expertise and practical wisdom of Georgia’s science education leaders and classroom teachers to draft and revise the standards. Beyond the educators and community members directly involved in that process, the state also held public input sessions. The result of that intensive process was a set of science standards that shifted our focus from endless lists of science trivia toward key concepts that would underpin both science literacy for the general public and advanced study for future scientists and engineers. The GPS also introduced a clear focus on the nature and processes of science through the Characteristics of Science standards, which were included in the GPS as co-requisites with the content standards. The GPS raised the level of rigor for all students and resulted in students having much more meaningful experiences than the ones many of you may have had as science students. The development and adoption of the science GPS under the leadership of our Georgia Department of Education was a success, and I have no doubt that those standards provide a better foundation for our students than the previous QCC did.
With that said, the science GPS are now showing their age. First, given the multiple, competing demands for instructional time in Georgia’s schools, our teachers still struggle to meet the content objectives of the GPS while engaging their students in scientific investigations that develop important critical thinking skills and instill an appreciation for the value of science in understanding our world and solving problems facing our society. This issue is complicated by the fact that the Characteristics of Science, while intended to be taught and assessed in concert with the content, are presented separately within the standards documents. Given this and the focus on fact-oriented multiple-choice testing, teachers are often pressured into sacrificing deep, contextualized learning through investigations in favor of superficial coverage and memorization of content. Improvements to our curriculum standards and continued improvements to our assessment system could help address this issue. Second, those national documents on which our science GPS are based were published in the mid-1990s. The issues we face as a society, the economy for which we are preparing our students, and our understanding of how students best learn science have all changed dramatically in the intervening 20 years. It is simply not realistic to expect a static set of curriculum standards to meet the needs of a student population that is increasingly dependent upon innovation in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering—the STEM fields.
Thus, the Georgia Science Teachers Association strongly believes the time has come for Georgia’s science teachers, business leaders, and community members to revisit our science standards with an eye toward moving those standards forward with a vision for science education that best serves our students and our state. With that in mind, we applaud Superintendent Woods and the Department of Education for the efforts they have already put in motion. Beginning with a survey of all Georgia science teachers to gather meaningful feedback on the current science GPS, the Superintendent has a plan in place to bring our science standards into the 21st Century. Our understanding is that the teacher survey will be followed by a revision process that will include classroom teachers, higher education faculty, business partners, and community members. We strongly support these efforts to provide Georgians with a voice in this process. Along with the expertise that exists within our borders, we also applaud the Superintendent’s willingness to look outside of Georgia for successful models and resources. One resource that should play a key role in this process is the National Research Council’s report, A Framework for K-12 Science Education. This document represents a synthesis of research in science and science education, and it presents a vision for science education that will prepare students “to engage in public discussions on science-related issues, to be critical consumers of scientific information related to their everyday lives, and to continue to learn about science throughout their lives” (NRC 2012, p. 9). The Framework, as the title implies, presents a broad outline of the science all students should know before completing the 12th grade, and it does not define specific curriculum standards. It does, however, point to characteristics that science standards should meet in order to support student learning in K-12 classrooms and college and career readiness beyond high school.
- Three-Dimensional Learning: The Framework defines three specific dimensions of science learning and calls for these dimensions to be integrated within science curricula, instruction, and assessment. These dimensions describe the structure of scientific thought as it is employed by practicing scientists and as it should be learned by students. The Disciplinary Core Ideas define a narrow set of ideas that help make sense of a particular scientific discipline and provide tools for understanding complex ideas and solving problems; the Crosscutting Concepts define the “big ideas” that apply across all scientific disciplines; and the Science and Engineering Practices describe behaviors that allow scientists to investigate the natural world and engineers to design solutions to important problems. In three-dimensional learning, students simultaneously apply core ideas and crosscutting concepts as they seek to explain real-world phenomena and solve meaningful problems. To facilitate this learning approach, science standards must explicitly integrate these three dimensions.
- Learning Progressions: For each of the three dimensions, the Framework presents developmental learning progressions that map out a coherent sequence of expectations across grade bands that support students in developing a deep understanding of each dimension. By building on these learning progressions, standards can, for example, help middle school teachers better understand where their students are expected to perform before entering high school. The result is that learning constantly builds on students’ prior experiences.
- Connections to STEM and Literacy: The Framework specifically integrates engineering with science in each of the three dimensions, and it calls for integration with mathematics and English language arts standards. The Science and Engineering Practices also provide excellent opportunities to integrate technology in multiple ways, for example within scientific investigations, for gathering and communicating information, or in analyzing data and developing models. Explicit integration of literacy with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics supports student learning and prepares students for the world beyond high school in which they will be expected to wield a variety of skills on interdisciplinary teams.
The Framework represents the state of the art in science education, and GSTA believes it should provide the foundation for Georgia’s updated science curriculum standards. Beyond the Framework, itself, Georgia also has access to a model set of standards that were developed based on the guidance of the Framework and with significant input from Georgia educators and citizens. Georgia served as one of 26 lead states in the collaborative, state-led process to develop the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Georgia was well represented as the NGSS progressed through six drafts between fall 2011 and spring 2013. Georgia was represented on the NGSS writing team; more than 100 Georgia science educators and higher education faculty served on Georgia’s NGSS Review Committee, Georgia universities served as critical stakeholders, an additional 51 representatives from industry and education partners served on a support group, thousands of Georgians viewed the public drafts in May 2012 and January 2013, and Georgians submitted nearly 400 responses to feedback surveys on those public drafts. This process resulted in a set of standards that put the vision of the Framework into action and that may be adopted or adapted at our state’s discretion with no incentive or restriction from the federal government nor any other entity.
Even though Georgia played a key role in the development of the NGSS, the DOE’s proposed revision process offers even greater opportunities for input from Georgia’s classroom teachers, science education leaders, and community members. We have the opportunity to learn from states who have already moved ahead with the NGSS or other Framework-aligned standards, and we have the chance to think carefully about how to best apply the research-based approach of the Framework to the reality of Georgia’s thousands of classrooms. We should take advantage of these opportunities, but we should not scrap the excellent work already done here in Georgia and in states across the nation. It is our desire that every child in Georgia will receive a high quality science education that will prepare them for life and work in the 21st century. In order for that to occur, our students need a set of challenging science standards that will provide them with the knowledge and skills needed for success. We support Superintendent Woods and the Georgia Department of Education as they move forward to evaluate and revise our science standards, and we urge the Department to ensure that the knowledge base represented in the Framework and the existing work of Georgia teachers represented in the NGSS are both reflected in that revision process. Further, we urge our State Board of Education, our elected officials, and the citizens of Georgia to support this effort to set a foundation that will prepare all students in Georgia to take advantage of the growing opportunities in STEM fields.