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Science Education in Texas: The Tail Wagging the Dog
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By Sandra S. West, Ph.D. STAT Legislative Committee

 

Texas science educators need to be at the table when science education issues arise such as revising our science standards, the TEKS. We need to be well informed, well prepared and directly involved to address science education in Texas. And you are the biggest part of that effort.  STAT will enable you.  

Current Issue & Process
The title of this piece is, “The Tail Wagging the Dog.” Last session, state lawmakers heard from teachers and administrators that Texas has too many standards (TEKS) in all courses. However, the effort reduce the number of the standards in all courses began with science, without any formal process to initially involve science teachers statewide, to streamline those standards.  As part of the Science TEKS streamlining process, the Texas Education Agency on behalf of the State Board of Education belatedly collected information from science educators because of staff and logistics constraints. The survey asked for information regarding the scope of student expectations for each grade level/course to inform the work of SBOE-appointed streamlining committee.  However, the survey closed September 19 after the first Science TEKS Streamlining Committee meeting that was held on July 19-21 and where many of the decisions were made. If that alarms you, it should. Science teachers statewide should be the first participants in the revision of science standards because it impacts everything from instructional materials to budgets to testing to the ability of Texas students to be ready for college, career and competitive in today’s world.

 

Lost Instructional Time
On another important note related to streamlining science TEKS, the STAT survey shockingly revealed that as many as 23 days are lost (or stolen depending upon how one views the activities) for instruction through both testing (required district and state) and non-testing activities such as picture days or assemblies, etc.  Furthermore, the new requirement to measure instruction in minutes instead of days is likely to reveal that lost instructional time may be a larger problem than too many TEKS.  See the STAT chart that summarizes the STAT survey findings.

STAT is active in this effort. I’ve attached our testimony to the State Board of Education. You, too, need to be involved. I encourage you to provide input on the Science TEKS.

If you do participate, I would strongly urge you to review the STAT Science TEKS Survey results. Science content standards change and evolve. It’s important our standards and national standards (A Framework for K-12 Science Education found at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts and the Next Generation Science Standards found at http://www.nextgenscience.org/) are on par. As science educators, it’s our job – more than anyone else – to ensure our students have the best standards and instructional materials possible.

 

Also, make your comments throughout the streamlining process to your respective SBOE member at http://tea.texas.gov/sboe/.  To idenitfy your SBOE (or other) representative is, go to http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Address.aspx/.  Additionally, register to vote, educate yourself and vote on every item on the ballot.

Never underestimate your importance in the process. Too often, science gets caught up in disagreements with controversial topics. But, that leaves the vast majority of our content untouched by any significant input. If you teach that content, get involved. If you don’t get involved, we may end up with content that is not the best for our students.  When science educators are not involved in developing the content that we will teach, we have given over to “The Tail Wags the Dog” scenario.  Becoming a part of the conversation, giving voice to what is Best Practice in our science classrooms and how we can effectively grow our students into next generation scientists, and advocating for the protection of instructional time will transition the current ‘Dog Wagging” situation to one where the Dog actually Wags the Tail.

I’d also encourage you to attend and testify at the SBOE meetings Nov. 16-18 at the TEA Headquarters located at 1601 N. Congress in Austin, TX. /.  Chuck Hempstead (chuck@hempsteadassociates.com) can provide guidance for registration and testimony anytime you wish to testify.

 

You are able to watch the livestreaming of the next meeting or videos of the past meetings such as the September 14th meeting regarding the progress on the TEKS Streamlining at http://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea

No date has been announced by TEA for the final decision on streamlined standards. Get involved and stay involved with our effort to maintain solid science standards in Texas. Contact Chuck Hempstead for additional information on involvement.

 

 


Here is the testimony STAT provided at the last SBOE:  

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.  The Science Teachers Association of Texas (STAT) respectfully suggests the following considerations for streamlining the science TEKS.  (We can provide additional examples if needed.)

CAUTIONS

• TIME: Streamlining teams of 2009 were not allowed adequate time to critically think through a very difficult assignment.  Teams of expert teachers, science coordinators and science educators in science content and pedagogy across Texas who have endeavored since January to focus on the bigger ideas and sub-concepts in the TEKS found that it requires hours of research, discussion and consensus for even a couple of TEKS Student Expectations.  Time for vertical alignment is also critical. We are concerned that, once again, the science writing/streamlining team will not be allowed enough time to provide the quality product that is needed.  

VERTICAL ALIGNMENT: The current TEKS are not well aligned due to a lack of time allotted to the writing team as a consequence of the textbook adoption timeline.  The strands must be vertically aligned and that can best be accomplished using the K-12 Standards for Science Education. Perhaps the Board could consider initially meeting by strand (such as Motion & Force) initially, rather than by grade level where it is more likely that the focus will be on individual grade-band TEKS.

STAAR: Science instruction is too often driven by STAAR, rather than the TEKS.  Moreover, in some cases STAAR is testing a math skill rather than a science concept or science items test beyond the TEKS.  More importantly, the high stakes (>50%) accountability has driven science education to Worst Practices (worksheets, lectures, etc.).

SUPPORTING TEA DOCUMENTS: The lack of K-12 adequately prepared science teachers and reducing the TEKS compels not only the creation of well-designed TEKS, but of “Clarifying” documents that explain what the TEKS mean and what they don’t mean such as TEA provided for math.  The NGSSS provides examples of “Clarifying Statements” and “Assessment Boundaries” that are very helpful in studying the TEKS. (See example) The TEKS and supporting documents need to be written for the least prepared teacher.


VOCABULARY: Include only important academic vocabulary (names for concepts) so that science doesn’t become even more of memorizing vocabulary instead of understanding concepts through inquiry and concrete/hands-on experiences for conceptual understanding and laying the foundation for deeper understanding at the next grade level and career/college readiness. The TEKS should prescribe the “academic vocabulary” not STAAR items.

NATIONAL SCIENCE STANDARDS: Science has a series of national standards from as early as the 1994 AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy (BSL) to the most current A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2012) and Next Generation Science Standards (2013) which, when researched, can provide clarity for writing TEKS.  The BSL also provides the research on misconceptions that TEKS writers need to know.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: The designation of “Readiness” and  “Supporting” TEKS resulted in districts, principals and teachers teaching only the “Readiness” TEKS and thus not laying/scaffolding the foundation for the conceptual understanding the “Readiness” concepts.

SCIENCE PROCESSES: Experts (scientists, teachers, coordinators & science educators) agree that the processes are how scientists learn about the patterns in the natural world and are not separate from the content.  Thus, the requests from some to either delete some of the processes or to combine them with content TEKS reveals a lack of understanding of how science works. Science processes are the tools scientists use to answer the research questions or test hypotheses and they are the tools students must use to learn about patterns in nature.  Science never separates them so that chemists use only a certain few and biologists use different processes. In contrast, scientists use any of those science practices/tools/processes needed for solving the research question just as engineers use “engineering practices” to solve a problem.  
 
• “STOLEN” INSTRUCTIONAL TIME: Some of the cries of “too many TEKS” come from teachers whose class time is “stolen” either in minutes or whole periods by school assemblies, pep rallies, school photos, “fun days”, etc.  There are schools in the same district where there is a difference of 15 days of instructional time as previously reported to the SBOE.

MATH: Students who have not learned the math skill in their math classes before using in science suffer in both math and science because science may be teaching math tricks and thus undermining math conceptual understanding. Similarly, science students do not understand the science concept that requires the prerequisite math skill that they haven’t yet learned.  We know this lack of horizontal math and science alignment is a problem beginning at grade 6 and we are researching if/how it may show up in K-5 perhaps in measurement, graphing, etc.. There is also a difference between the way science handles formulas/equations and the use of “pretty/even” numbers versus decimal numbers.

TEKS REDUCED IN 2009 & with TEA ‘Readiness” designations. The SBOE directed the 2009 writing team to “reduce” the TEKS in 2009.  Details like names of scientists were deleted along with some concepts.

ANECDOTES: Anecdotes, rather than the research/Best Practices, tend to drive decisions.

SUGGESTIONS:

• DELETE: There are TEKS that can be deleted because

- they are not cognitively appropriate such as “mass” in K-5 or

- no higher level courses are dependent upon them  (6.5 c Calculate density) or

- the TEKS are included in another TEKS (6.7 a Speed also found in 8.6 c) and its removal would not undermine student understanding of motion at grade 8 or the CCRS although I would not necessarily recommend it.

• CONSOLIDATION: 6.5 A & C can be combined to include “differentiate between element, compound, molecule and atom” to form a bigger idea about “matter”.  However, if all of these concepts are taught in one lesson, students are not likely to develop the conceptual understanding of them.

• CLARIFICATION: There are some TEKS knowledge and skills statements “student understands…_” which need editing for clarification and continuity.

• MATERIALS: Instructional materials produced by national corporations are generic for the entire U.S., not specific for science and, therefore, should not play a major role in streamlining decisions. For example, one widely adopted 5th grade science book contains the 8th grade concept of “acceleration”.  

• WORKFORCE/COLLELGE READINESS: The business community has strongly indicated the need for certain areas of preparation, many of which are found in science TEKS such as Force/Motion or Engineering Practices and thus the need to keep physics and chemistry TEKS in mind during streamlining.

• The “HESS Cognitive Rigor Matrix (Math Science CRM) is a useful tool to enable the writing team to identify the “verbs” for the TEKS.  (see example)


QUESTIONS:

• How severely does the SBOE expect the “streamlining” to go?  Easy deletions include removal of all “including” and “such as” examples. Is TEA going to provide the supplemental documents to replace the clarification that teachers requested with “such as”.  

• Is there a magic number for the maximum number of TEKS?  Some CTE courses have several times as many TEKS as science.  For example, Biology has 58 TEKS whereas §130.6. Veterinary Medical Applications has 107 TEKS.

• Will TEA clarify the link between the process and content TEKS for underprepared teachers?  The 5th grade has only 23 Science content SEs despite the testimony of some witnesses.  Expert teachers design their Scope and Sequences by content TEKS, not process TEKS and teach the process TEKS needed by students to learn the content TEKS.

The Science Teachers Association of Texas represents over 6,000 Texas science teachers and we remain ready to assist when and wherever needed.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

The Science Teachers Association of Texas

 

 

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