D.C. adopts new K-12 science standards

December 19, 2013

The D.C. State Board of Education voted Wednesday to adopt new K-12 science standards meant to strengthen science education by prioritizing critical thinking and problem solving over memorization of facts.

The District joins eight states (including Maryland) that have already adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, developed over the course of two years by 26 state leaders based on recommendations by a panel of National Research Council scientists.

The city expects to fully implement the NGSS — which were designed to be aligned with Common Core State Standards in math and language arts — by the 2016-17 school year.

The new science standards emphasize depth over breadth, asking students to learn fewer concepts but to study them more closely. The standards also ask students to apply what they have learned by doing the kinds of things scientists and engineers do, such as ask questions, build theories and design models.

Testimony on the new standards was mostly positive and included support from the city’s traditional school system, which serves more than half of its public school students.

But there are still many questions about what it will take to implement the new standards well, including how schools will prepare teachers and pay for the materials they need to provide rich hands-on science instruction.

In many schools, parents and teachers say, science has fallen by the wayside as educators have focused on — and been held accountable for — students’ math and reading performance.

Molly Smith, a DCPS high school chemistry teacher, said that the adoption of the new standards must come with an acknowledgment that science requires resources.

“Students in K-12 need access to materials and equipment, much of which is consumable,” Smith said. “That means an ongoing commitment to funding.”

The state board voted 8-0 in favor of the standards, with President Laura Slover abstaining. Slover is a senior vice president at Achieve, a nonprofit that coordinated the development of the new science standards.

Besides Maryland, the other states that have adopted the standards are Washington, California, Rhode Island, Vermont, Kentucky, Kansas and Delaware.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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