Dear Science Teachers of Missouri,
Below is a copy of the position letter that we sent to the Missouri Commissioner of Education and the members of the Missouri State Board of Education.
The end of the 2019-2020 school year and the beginning of the 2020-21 school year have been challenging. The Coronavirus pandemic has thrust school districts into tailspins as they attempt to account for learning loss. In response, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) formed a task force to support district acceleration of learning efforts. This task force was divided into three workgroups: Assessments of Learning Loss, Acceleration of Learning, and Reaching all Students.
The work of these groups has yielded recommendations to school districts as well as DESE on how to address issues of learning loss and support students. Through communication with the department, it has been stated that one outcome from this task force is the creation of state level Priority Standards. Although evidence within the documents from the task force (The Power in the Process: The Why Behind Priority Standards and Recommendations for DESE) does not specifically state that DESE undergo this work, state-level priority standards have been drafted for English Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science.
Science Teachers of Missouri (STOM) takes a firm stand that the drafted priority standards for science deviate from what we believe is the true intent of the Missouri Learning Standards for Science and do not accomplish the goal for which they were intended. Furthermore, STOM believes they will do more harm than good and therefore would recommend that DESE turn their attention to help districts in other ways.
The Science standards were designed to support student learning across the four domains of Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, Life Science, and Engineering and Technology through a three-dimensional approach to teaching and learning. The three dimensions of the Missouri Learning Standards for Science are the Disciplinary Core Ideas, the Crosscutting Concepts, and the Science and Engineering Practices. Since the Priority Standards contain only one of the three facets of science, their structure can be misinterpreted, thus leading individuals to believe that science instruction should only focus on the Science and Engineering Practices. This approach would take us back to the previous standards where scientific method and inquiry were taught in isolation. These practices are only one of the essential three dimensions. A quote that was shared during the priority standards informational meeting on October 5, 2020 stated, “In science, priority instructional content is not defined as specific topics or ideas, but rather the approach to integrating the three dimensions…” (CCSSO, 2020). This quote articulates that by focusing solely on the practices, students will be missing out on important content and conceptual understanding. The content of these standards or performance expectations rely on an intensively researched learning progression that has been modified and is available to educators on the DESE Science webpage. Encouraging districts to pick and choose “priority standards in science could greatly disrupt the intended learning processes for students. ALL of the Missouri Learning Standards for science are important, and priority should not be given to one standard over another. The Framework for K-12 Science Education further supports this position as the core ideas were prioritized at the outset of development of the three-dimensional science learning standards (NRC, 2012).
When thinking about the state assessment for Science, it is a federal requirement for states to assess the depth and breadth of the state standards. Therefore, the assessment should cover a range of performance expectations/standards for science across the life of the assessment. Since that is a federal requirement, the new Priority Standards leave too much open to interpretation for districts. Districts may select a subset of the Missouri Learning Standards for science that may not appear on that year’s state assessment. This is misleading and can be potentially detrimental to school districts’ performance ratings, and more importantly, does not prepare our Missouri students for science success at the next level. Alternatively, an assessment only aligned to the priority standards opens the state up to not meeting federal requirements. Furthermore, careers focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are rapidly developing. We want to ensure that students have the opportunity to compete for these high-paying, and widely needed careers as they enter the workforce.
Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics may be more malleable and acceptable for choosing priorities. Science, however, relies on the content, practices and crosscutting concepts to ensure students are gaining the essential knowledge and skills to become scientifically literate. With that, STOM suggests the Crosscutting Concepts be integrated across all content areas. The applicability of these crosscutting concepts spreads far across many subject areas and can be easily integrated. A common set of practices or skills among core content areas would be something STOM encourages DESE to review.
Finally, STOM encourages districts and DESE to support Science with the same vigor as ELA and Mathematics. To do so, STOM suggests DESE revise the recommended timing guidelines for each content area. Instead of the content areas existing in silos with specified amounts of time (e.g. ELA 90 minutes), we suggest that science and social studies be the context for which ELA is taught. Dr. Nell Duke from the University of Michigan has conducted research (Project PLACE, 2019) to show that embedding the skills of ELA into the rich context of science and social studies increased student state assessment scores in ELA, as well as social studies. Science taps into the natural curiosity and energy of young people, and Missouri science provides content that engages and motivates students to step up and apply themselves to challenging tasks (Gomez-Zwiep & Straits, 2013; Worth, Winokur, Crissman, Heller-Winokur, & Davis, 2009). ELA tasks, including reading complex texts, formulating arguments, constructing explanations, and defending claims, are not so daunting when they are a path to understanding something students really want to figure out. This research is just a sampling among many solid studies that conclude the essential background knowledge and context students need to develop strong reading and writing skills is provided by exposure to science and social studies.
In conclusion, STOM encourages DESE to focus their efforts to support districts in ways other than developing statewide priority standards. The priorities were established when the Missouri Learning Standards for science were developed. The workgroup members clearly stated the priorities to be that science educators ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussion on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside of school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including but not limited to, careers in science, engineering, and technology (NRC, 2012)
The Science Teachers of Missouri (STOM)