Washington unveils new science standards

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 4, 2013 

Science Fair

Nick Arnold, a seventh grader at West Valley Jr. High School in Yakima, tells judge Anthony Cockbain about his science this past March at the Mid-Columbia Regional Science and Engineering Fair at the Columbia Center Mall.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

New science standards aimed at teaching engineering and technology and closely integrated with recently implemented language arts and math benchmarks soon will be taught in Washington classrooms.

Gov. Jay Inslee and state Superintendent Randy Dorn announced the state's adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards at a Seattle middle school Friday.

The standards will be implemented in all K-12 public schools by the 2016-17 school year, and students will be tested on them in the 2017-18 school year.

State leaders said the new standards are necessary to prepare students for an economy that likely will be dominated by careers in science and engineering. And that means teaching students in a way that inspires them.

"From the 20th century to the 21st century, science has changed dramatically," Dorn told the Herald. "(We need) to keep kids engaged and curious."

Mid-Columbia school officials said it will take time and work to prepare teachers, particularly at the grade school level, to use the new standards, but that the new measures ultimately will benefit students and teachers alike.

"I think it's totally going to be a support," said Kathy Hayden, executive director of curriculum and professional development for the Pasco School District.

The science standards were developed from the Framework for K-12 Science Standards, a collaboration of the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Twenty-six states worked with the organizations on writing the standards, and Washington is the eighth state to formally adopt them.

Physical science, life science and earth and space science are covered under the new standards, teaching basic foundations and practices and encouraging student inquiry along with engineering.

The standards will be applied at all grade levels and are meant to promote real-world application of scientific concepts, much like the Common Core State Standards are supposed to do for language arts and math.

Dorn and Inslee emphasized the importance of consistent science education. "Our classrooms are where Washington's next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs get their start," Inslee said in a release.

Science education already has taken a front seat in many Mid-Columbia schools. Districts from Kiona-Benton City to Finley have found ways to integrate science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, into their curriculum.

The Tri-City districts jointly operate Delta High School, a STEM school of about 400 students. The Pasco School District also is building three new elementary schools during the next two years with a STEM-focused curriculum.

Science teachers in Pasco, Kennewick and Richland have had some exposure to the new standards, district officials said. Most have reacted to them favorably and the standards primarily are in line with what's already being taught in classrooms.

"(The science teachers) have been very positive on what they've seen so far," said Lori McCord, director of teaching and learning for the Richland School District.

Some school officials said preliminary views of the new standards show that elementary curricula will need more adjustments than at the middle and high school levels.

"We've kind of started down that path," said Kathy Fisk, K-12 math and science coordinator for the Kennewick School District. "We'll take it very slowly and very thoughtfully."

But the state, as well as teachers and administrators, still have work to do. It's not known what the standardized tests will look like that will evaluate student performance on the new standards. Dorn said he doesn't expect the tests to be ready until 2016.

The state already is in the midst of putting a new standardized test, the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), into place to evaluate students on Common Core. Some educators have been critical of the test for frequent changes or a lack of details about what's expected of students.

Additionally, Dorn said elementary school teachers could struggle as the state hasn't had rigid science standards for students below fifth grade. He plans to ask the Legislature to provide more funding to help prepare teachers, especially those working with younger students.

"There are a number of elementary teachers who are not comfortable with teaching science without training," he said.

Fisk said she has confidence her district's teachers will rise to the challenge. The new standards might even make teaching more rewarding and enjoyable and help students become more engaged.

But she, like some other educators, questions the timing in light of the work already being done on Common Core.

"I was kind of hoping it was another year away," she said.

w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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