By Kevin Fisher
The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has mandated that the Science TEKS be streamlined. This will be a unique opportunity for the science education community. We have an unprecedented occasion to improve the Science TEKS and enhance science education in our state. Are the current Science TEKS perfect, of course not. Are the current Science TEKS good, yes? Could the Science TEKS be improved, absolutely? The Science TEKS have some nebulous statements that need clarification. There are some content errors in the current Science TEKS. Effective streamlining might reduce the amount of content that educators are required to cover. All of us have heard from educators that too little time exists to present all the required content. There is a continuous call to explore topics at a deeper level as opposed to superficially covering a myriad of topics. The key word here is effective streamlining. There might be redundancy in the document. However, care must be exercised in recognizing concepts that are spiraled throughout the grade levels as opposed to true redundancy.
The SBOE has several key questions regarding the document. The first is whether or not the science process skills are needed in the document. The question has been posed to keep all the process skills, reduce the number of process skills, or eliminate the process skills completely from the document. There seems to be some confusion among educators as to how the process skills should be addressed. Some educators are trying to integrate only one process skill per activity, thus requiring an excessive number of activities to address all the process skills. Educators are not aware that an activity can address several process skills simultaneously. The other attribute of the concepts skills that should be considered is that the process skills allow real science to be practiced in the classroom.
The second question is how much time is required to teach all the current content in the document. The SBOE wants to insure there is adequate time to teach what the TEKS document mandates. The SBOE has received a significant amount of feedback that the Science TEKS have too much material to be effectively covered in a school year. The SBOE wants critical concepts to be covered in greater depth as opposed to skimming over many concepts in a course.
A couple of items the SBOE have mandated are the Science TEKS can be streamlined; however, no new concepts can be added. Also, concepts cannot be moved from one grade level to another. The reason behind this is the fact that new instructional materials will not be developed after the streamlining. In order to avoid the problem of not having materials available to teach the concepts, the SBOE requested these requirements. It is important to note, the streamlining will not take the place of a full rewrite of the Science TEKS. The rewrite is still scheduled to occur in a few years.
A very important part of this process will be a survey developed by the Texas Education Agency that will be distributed statewide. This survey will ask for potential areas in the Science TEKS that can be streamlined. This will be the foundation to guide the revision teams. It is essential that every science educator give their input through the survey. This is how effective change can be put into motion. Your thoughts are important; take the time to complete the survey. Science teachers are on the frontlines, and know better than anyone else what can be streamlined. Something to keep in mind, a person might be required to provide justification for the changes that are suggested. This would be an opportunity for everyone to have a voice. Keep in mind the old adage, if you don’t participate, you have no basis to complain.
The writing team members that conduct the actual streamlining of the Science TEKS will be a critical attribute of the process. In addition to having strong science content knowledge, being very familiar with the Science TEKS grades K – 12, the members must be forward thinkers. In other words, what will be essential for students to know and be able to do five years from now? Science is a rapidly advancing and fluid field as is education. As an example, who would have thought that the majority of teaching resources would now be online and the technology department would be a major player in the instructional materials arena? If you wish to be nominated as a writing team member for the streamlining process, you will need to contact the State Board of Education Member who represents you and express your interest. The next step will be to complete an application form that will be available from the Texas Education Agency.
Once again, this is a tremendous opportunity to improve science education in our state. Streamlining can help the educator develop a focus on the truly important concepts, give educators some time back in the area of preparation and instruction, and improve student learning and comprehension. Make sure you have an active role in this process.
Kevin Fisher is a Past President of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, Past President of the Texas Education Science Leadership Association, and has 36 years of experience in science education.