Monday, November 2, 2020

A Report on How State Public School Science Standards Are Addressing Climate Change

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

The National Center for Science Education (NCES) ad the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund (TFNEF) have issued a new report on how state public school science standards address climate change. 

An interactive graphic is provided allowing readers to read the grades each state was given for its approach and a summary of comments by the reviewers for that state. I thought of the latter as feedback. Minnesota's type of standards is a framework and is graded B-. Here are a couple of comments on strengths--"severity of the problem as well as possible solutions" and weaknesses--"lack of structure and organized progression.") The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was only given a B+.  These may be read in an appendix to the report as well.

Only 27 of the states received a grade of B or better; the remaining 24 states received a grade of C+ or less. Of the 27 states receiving a grade of B or better, 20 of them plus the District of Columbia adopted the NGSS standards outright. The 24 states receiving C+ or less grades included six who were given an F.

"The reviewers considered the treatment of climate change in each set of standards with respect to four key points that form a basic outline of the scientific consensus on the issue:

  1. It’s real: Recent climate change is a genuine phenomenon.
  2. It’s us: Human activity is responsible for the global change in climate.
  3. It’s bad: Climate change is affecting and will continue to affect nature and society.
  4. There’s hope: It is possible to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

"In evaluating how the standards addressed those four points, the reviewers considered six focus questions for each:

  1. To what extent is the treatment of the issue in the standards helpful in permitting students to reach these conclusions?
  2. To what extent is the treatment of the issue in the standards appropriately explicit?
  3. To what extent is the treatment of the issue in the standards integrated in a coherent learning progression?
  4. To what extent do the standards make it clear to teachers what knowledge and skills students are expected to attain?
  5. To what extent would a student who met the performance expectations in the standards relevant to the issue be prepared for further study in higher education?
  6. To what extent would a student who met the performance expectations in the standards relevant to the issue be prepared for responsible participation in civic deliberation about climate change?

The reviewers assessed the standards by answering the six focus questions — as very good (i.e., helpful, explicit, integrated, clear, preparing for higher education, preparing for civic deliberation), somewhat good, somewhat bad, very bad, or not present — with regard to each of the four key points. These responses were assigned numerical scores." 

It is possible I missed this--I am not a great vertical, flat screen reader--but I wish the previous criteria were discussed and described, e.g., how are E and F above different from one another.

There is an appendix with details of how the reviewer's comments--they diverged somewhat--were weighted and then graded on a curve. The reviewers are identified and a brief review of their background is provided. One is a climate scientist.

Grade bands reviewers read were middle school science and high school science. An example of a choice made was when two levels of science were offered, between the regular curriculum and say Advanced Placement. The reviewers read only the regular curriculum standards.

In some of the states these areas of concern are discussed:

--The promotion of the false debate among climate scientists when in fact their concurrence on climate change is widely held.

--Muddling the science. I have participated in the development of science standards and know how very easy it is for these to sneak in, including misconceptions of the writers.

--Missing the opportunities to inspire hope. This is crucial, I think when it sometimes appears all is lost so why bother. There are good signs and students may be inspired to contribute as adults to making such signs larger and more significant.

Key findings and recommendations are made as is to be expected.

These post-mortems and critiques are common in science and have value in science education, I think. There will be a next time and the suggested revisions and the ideas presented here will be useful in this. Standards and frameworks are living documents. I thought some of the changes suggested can also be promoted in professional development settings, e.g., giving students a sense of hope when the data are dark.

It may be read, downloaded here.

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