In building common science standards, not all benchmarks are created equal

In January, with the release of our analysis of state K-12 science standards, we reported that the state of state science standards was very poor—the overall national average was a very low C, and 26 states earned a D or F. This news was unwelcome, if also unsurprising.

But, as many people already know, a group of 26 states have teamed up with Achieve to do for science what the NGA and CCSSO did for ELA and math—to create a rigorous set of common standards that states would have the option to adopt as their own.

Whether those standards will be worth adoption remains an open question, but insiders tell us that we can expect the first public draft to be released for comment later this spring.

Our advice to the drafters of these “Next Generation Science Standards” (NGSS) was to look to the model state standards—to places like D.C., California, and Massachusetts—to inform their work. But what about the most commonly used national international benchmarks for science achievement—the NAEP, PISA, TIMSS, and ACT? The results from these assessments are often used to describe how well (or how poorly) states and nations are doing in science education. But are the standards that undergird these assessments strong? And can they provide a roadmap for the authors of the NGSS?

To help answer this question, using the same criteria that we used to evaluate each state’s standards, we asked distinguished biologist (and veteran Fordham science reviewer) Paul Gross to analyze the assessment frameworks for each of these science tests. (You can read Dr. Gross’s complete review of the NAEP, PISA, TIMSS, and ACT frameworks by clicking on each link.)

Overall, the results were mixed: Dr. Gross found the NAEP and TIMSS frameworks to be excellent; each earned an impressive 9 out of a possible 10 points and received an A minus.

The PISA and ACT frameworks were less impressive, each earning a mediocre C.

The best of the state standards—and the NAEP and TIMSS frameworks—have several things in common. For starters, they include most of the critical science content that students need to learn from K through grade 12, and that content is appropriately rigorous and progresses well from grade to grade. (While the frameworks delineate content for only select grades, that content is comprehensive, clear, and grade-appropriate.) In addition, they are clearly organized and presented. Finally, while they include critical science process skills, those skills are well integrated with the content that students need to learn.

It’s important to note, however, that these frameworks are not meant to be K-12 curriculum standards. They are meant to drive assessment development, not curriculum or instruction. Therefore, judging the frameworks against our criteria was imperfect. But, as the authors of the NGSS look to draw upon the best of what’s out there, we hope that they find these reviews useful, and we hope that they turn to TIMSS and NAEP to help inform their work.

To learn more about the state of science standards, watch Kathleen's recent FoxNews.com interview on the subject.

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