I teach 10th graders Biology.
I never took Biology in High School.
Like my own parents, I sometimes wonder “How can I leave the world a better place for my children and make sure they aren’t lacking for the essentials?” In this case, the essentials of Science are outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
Here’s a sample from the Tahoma High School Course Catalog’s Science section:
“Level One” is the path most 9th grade students take, which means an ideal, well-prepared student who takes four years of science would likely meander through an Earth Science lab, a Biology lab, Chemistry, and Physics.
Except when they don’t. Because, sometimes, they won’t.
We all have our opinions of No Child Left Behind (including US Congress, where the Senate passed a reauthorization 81-17 and the House passed it 218-213 in 2015), but one of the consequences of the high-stakes tests NCLB mandated was an increased focus on ensuring students passed this test, by any means necessary.
This meant our 9th Grade science course evolved from a course with major Earth and Space Science (ESS) components into a course that taught cellular and molecular biology, as there simply wasn’t enough room to teach ALL of the Biology needed for the Biology End of Course exam in a single year.
Whether you think that’s good or not likely depends on whether you enjoy Biology more or less than Earth Science.
However, the state of Washington is in the midst of a major realignment with its capstone science assessment. There’s a lot still undetermined (including whether it will be given to 10th or 11th grade students – kind of a big difference!), but one thing that is known is the test will be on more than Biology.
(Some of the work can be found at http://www.csai-online.org/spotlight/science-assessment-item-collaborative, where a sample Grade 5 and sample High School Science test question shows how NGSS Performance Expectations could look translated into test form – in WA, the High School team is formulating questions this week and next in Olympia).
Maybe it’s my youth and naivety, but this change feels different than the WASL and different than the HSPE. This change, at least in the Science and Science Testing world, feels like it will last for a long time. That’s probably due to the tremendous buy-in to the Next Gen Science Standards, and the feeling that it’s more “for us, by us” than other state-mandated tests have felt, but a change of this magnitude feels like it could happen only once or twice a generation.
Which means we may only have one chance this generation to realign correctly. (Or two if we’re lucky).
Over time, my district has ended up relatively weak on Earth Science (and almost nonexistent on Astronomy), and we’re looking for ways to incorporate more ESS into the curriculum, in order to help students become exposed to most/all of the NGSS standards.
Option 1: Make the 9th Grade Science class an ESS class.
Option 2: Weave ESS into all three grade bands (e.g. 9th grade Inquiry Biology with ESS, 10th grade Inquiry Biology II with ESS, 11th Grade Chemistry with ESS).
Option 3: PLEASE HELP!!!!!
That’s why I want to open up a dialogue. During informal conversations with other Science teachers in neighboring districts, I’ve found that every single person is having the same kind of discussion.
I’d love to assemble a coalition of people that would take a glance at their scope and sequence, and honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses.
I’d love for that coalition to float some proposals of what their districts are planning to do to address any glaring “holes” in your NGSS preparation scope and sequence.
I’d love even more if you could get this post in the face of Science Teachers in your district – even if you personally aren’t a science teacher, you can help!
But what I’d love most is if everyone in that coalition came back and shared what changes were made and how it impacted students and science.
The bigger the coalition, the more ideas we can generate and the faster we can spread the best ideas to science departments across Washington and across the US. Help me make sure that no students have to make the same mistake I did as a high schooler and ignore a crucial portion of science.
What steps are teachers in your district taking to identify and address gaps in meeting the NGSS Strands?
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