By Stephanie Gregson, California Department of Education, and Sam Shaw, EdReports.org
There has never been a more important time to inspire in students a love of science learning.
The California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS) and expectations for materials promote this love while building the scientific literacy that students will need for the rest of their lives. Science is a key foundation for both understanding and problem-solving challenges facing both current and future students. If students want to go into medical research to help cure disease, they must have an understanding of biology. If they want to develop a new source of clean energy to combat climate change, they must first be able to use the science and engineering practices. We must be prepared to work together to offer students a transformative kind of science education.
The California 2016 Science Framework
California is committed to developing this next generation of scientists and leaders, and we know it won't happen by chance. We understand that the model of instruction we offer and materials to support that instruction matter greatly. That's why California developed the 2016 Science Framework for California Public Schools (CA Framework) which embraced the innovations in the CA NGSS while honoring state priorities such as ensuring the needs of diverse students are met and prioritizing students' local neighborhoods to make science learning culturally relevant.
The cornerstones of the California NGSS—phenomena-driven instruction and three-dimensional learning—have the potential to transform science education by moving lessons away from rote memorization of facts to sparking curiosity and wonder about the things students are experiencing in their communities every day. Instead of being confined to book definitions, students build science knowledge by asking questions, planning investigations, arguing from evidence, and constructing models to explore questions about the natural or manmade world. In short, they learn science by engaging as scientists, and regardless of their future path, students develop scientific literacy and critical thinking skills that will help them understand and solve future challenges.
New Materials to Meet New Standards
The CA Framework offers powerful ways for students to learn science, but let's be clear, these standards present a real departure from how science content has been taught before. We cannot expect teachers and students to meet the demands of these standards with outdated materials and without support at the district, county, and state level. Educators need and deserve quality instructional materials, ongoing professional learning, and resources that foster excellence.
Instructional materials provide an important learning support and foundation for both teachers and students. All districts across California are committed to ensuring students have the best possible science material; however, we know that they need support in selecting the best materials. With science adoptions on the horizon, it's important to stress that California districts are not alone in making these important decisions. There are a variety of supports to help ensure that educators are empowered with trusted data and evidence about the quality of available science programs.
Resources to Support Smart Adoption Practices
Informed decisions are generally quality decisions. After the development of the CA Framework, more than a hundred science teachers from across the state were appointed by the State Board of Education to conduct a review of 34 science programs. Beginning in April 2017, these teachers, who demonstrated strong knowledge of the standards, worked both individually and collectively to evaluate materials for alignment to the CA NGSS and CA Framework. In July, the group was able to recommend 29 programs to the Instructional Quality Commission for recommendation to the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education formally adopted the recommended programs late last year.
The California adoption list is a great starting point in your smart adoption practices. The list offers districts options to consider as they begin the process of looking more deeply at materials to see if the programs will be the right fit for their educators and students. While the list is valuable, it is not a stopping point nor is it the only resource we recommend. What's especially exciting about this moment in science is that there are a wealth of both local and national organizations investing in the same goal: providing credible information about science materials.
EdReports.org, a non-profit founded to improve K-12 education by providing free reviews of instructional materials, just released comprehensive reviews of year-long middle school science programs with evidence to inform educators about the quality and alignment of these materials. These detailed, by-educator reviews support district teams to conduct their own in-depth analysis of programs. The evidence shows if the materials meet standards and how the materials are designed to support teachers and students. As we've seen with our ELA and math reviews, California districts are able to use these reports in conjunction with the California list and CA Framework to make great decisions for their students.
All reviews are especially powerful when combined with district professional learning, the state adoption toolkit, supports from county offices, and other rubrics and resources such as the California NGSS TIME tool that many California districts have already been using. These resources are different in scope and purpose, but all are designed to support districts in choosing high-quality instructional materials. Depending on district need and capacity, the suite of resources allows educators to be strategic and exercise flexibility throughout the selection process.
A Community Effort
The materials districts choose should ultimately be a decision local leaders and educators make. They are the ones who know their students best and who work with the kids in their community every day. But that doesn't mean the choice should be made in isolation. In order for us to be successful, we need everyone across the state—parents, teachers, district leaders, and community members—to invest in making sure that all students are experiencing the type of science learning that sparks curiosity, supports problem solving, and helps the next generations to understand and shape the world around them.
One way to start this change is by making sure that the materials that we have in classrooms are high-quality and that teachers get great professional learning opportunities about how to make this content come alive in our classrooms. We are optimistic that by working together we can achieve the promise of the standards for our students and our future.