ERIC Identifier: ED402156
Publication Date: 1996-09-00
Author: Close, Denise - And Others
Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
National Standards and Benchmarks in Science Education: A Primer. ERIC Digest.
In the midst of our national quest for what students should know and be able
to do in science, what is the bottom line for teachers? What should teachers
know and be able to do in the science classroom? The following questions and
answers are intended to highlight the key features of the science education
reform movement as it relates to curricula and classroom practice. Reform of
science and mathematics education has been on the national agenda for over a
decade, and key leaders have offered their perspectives of progress to date
(Rutherford, 1996; Strassenburg, 1996; Vos, 1996). The ideas presented here have
been gleaned from the National Science Education Standards (National Research
Council, 1996) and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for
the Advancement of Science, 1993) Both documents elaborate ideas emerging from
Project 2061 (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990) and other efforts that have
focused on the science knowledge and skills literate citizens should possess.
WHAT ARE BENCHMARKS AND STANDARDS?
Both benchmarks and
standards are commonly defined as reference points for judging quality, but the "Benchmarks" and "Standards" documents differ in form and purpose. The
"Benchmarks" are intended to serve as curriculum design tools to help schools
promote science literacy, specifying the levels of understanding and ability
that all students are expected to reach along the way to becoming literate in
science. The "Standards" complement the "Benchmarks" by going beyond science
content considerations to provide frames of reference for judging the quality of
teaching, professional development, assessment, science education programs, and
WHAT ARE BENCHMARKS AND STANDARDS NOT?
* They are not "regulations" to specify uniform programs based on a particular curriculum,
philosophy, or instructional approach, but rather can be interpreted and
implemented in a variety of ways.
* They do not imply that separate science teaching units should support each
other in isolation.
* They do not diminish the responsibility of local and state agencies to
design, select, and implement curriculum materials, instructional practices, and
assessment strategies (BSCS, 1995).
WHAT ARE THE GOALS AND PURPOSES OF "STANDARDS" AND
The main goal is scientific literacy for all. It is proposed
that teachers know their students well enough to adapt curricula and teaching so
that all students learn. This is not a lowering of standards, so that all can
succeed, but rather a defining of standards so that all students accomplish the
same learnings through various means. It is recognized (Benchmarks, p. 317) that "in the real and imperfect world, 'all' cannot possibly be absolute. When
pressed for an operational definition, we have settled for 'at least 90 % of all
future adults will have acquired at least 90 % of the knowledge and skills
recommended in [Science for all Americans].'"
The Standards provide maps for:
*Students to establish their own goals for learning.
*Teachers to develop curricula with improved content, teaching methods, and
*Science supervisors to create coherent, integrated, long-term action plans.
*Institutions of higher education to refine programs for learning science
*School administrators to plan adequate resources for classrooms and
professional development of teachers.
*Those who work in museums, zoos, and science centers to establish learning
*Parents and community members to support excellence in education.
*The scientific community to provide unique support to teachers and students.
*Business and industry to provide guidance and resources in developing
*Legislators to mold policies and funding priorities.
Benchmarks complement the Standards by addressing the content that students
are expected to master at certain grade levels while giving coherence to the
whole. Benchmarks can be used by:
*Teacher groups, administrators, school-board members, parents, interested
citizens, and scientists to relate science literacy to the school setting.
*Committees of teachers and specialists to measure the curriculum and make
*Developers of curriculum to create materials.
*Test writers to develop appropriate materials and assessment techniques.
*Institutions of higher learning to prepared teachers.
*Researchers to pinpoint areas where further studies are needed.
HAVEN'T WE DONE THIS BEFORE?
Yes, but it didn't work. We
need to do more than update science content. For this reason, the "Standards"
emphasize teaching, assessment, program, and system as well as content. The
"Standards" soften the boundaries between traditional subject matter categories
and emphasize connections through conceptual themes such as systems, evolution,
cycles, and energy. Also, the "Standards" require students to know fewer
details; key concepts and thinking skills are emphasized over specialized
vocabulary and memorization. The Standards introduce some relatively uncommon
topics such as the nature of scientific enterprise, the history of science and
technology, and how science, mathematics, and technology relate to society.
WHAT'S THE REAL AGENDA BEHIND THESE PROJECTS?
extent the "Standards" are reactions to dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Earlier reforms did not address science literacy for all students and were
considered by some to be ill articulated and short-sighted. "Benchmarks" and
"Standards" represent efforts by diverse collaborative communities to plot a new
course for science education and produce long term changes.
A key aphorism from Project 2061 is "less is more," since we cannot hope to
teach the entire body of science content knowledge. We must help students see
the big picture and work with important constructs, models, and theories to
develop both critical reasoning skills and deeper understanding of the processes
as well as the essential content of science.
The movement to standards-based education is widespread. Many professional
organizations representing different content areas have published, or are
currently working on, national standards for their disciplines.
HOW DO GUIDELINES REGARDING SCIENCE CONTENT COMPARE BETWEEN "BENCHMARKS" AND "STANDARDS?"
In addition to science, the "Benchmarks" describe goals in social studies, mathematics, and technology that
are not included in the "Standards." Otherwise, "the many individuals who
developed the content standards sections of the...'Standards' made independent
use and interpretation of the statements of what all students should know and be
able to do that [were] published in Science for All Americans and Benchmarks" (NRC, 1996, p.15).
HOW MIGHT "BENCHMARKS" AND "STANDARDS" INFLUENCE STATE AND DISTRICT CURRICULA, AND INDIVIDUAL TEACHERS?
"Science for All
Americans" and the "Benchmarks" have strongly influenced state and local science
curriculum frameworks. Educators and legislators at the state and local levels
have acknowledged the need to reform science education and design curricula to
help students understand essential concepts to become prepared to play a part in
national and global economies. Teachers will be seeing curriculum guidelines and
learning objectives that bear striking resemblance to those found in the
"Benchmarks." Since the National Science Teachers Association has endorsed the
"Standards," further adjustments to state and local frameworks are likely in
HOW DO WE MEASURE PROGRESS TOWARDS ACHIEVING "BENCHMARKS" AND
Since both the "Benchmarks" and the "Standards" are intended
only as resources or guidelines from which to create coherent and comparable
state frameworks and local curricula, it will be up to each state, district,
school, and teacher to assess and evaluate achievement of their selected
standards. The National Assessment of Educational Progress has been testing
randomly selected students across grade levels and disciplines throughout the
country for some years. It seems likely that some similar means of assessing the
educational system and discipline-based knowledge and skills will continue.
The "Standards" include consideration of assessment issues. Project 2061 is
also developing additional resources which will include various means of
assessment for reaching specific benchmarks and overall scientific literacy.
HOW IS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT ADDRESSED BY THE "BENCHMARKS" AND "STANDARDS?"
The "Benchmarks" do not address
professional development issues. The "Standards" include a chapter on
professional development issues relating to (1) learning science, (2) learning
to teach science, (3) learning to learn, and (4) the characteristics of quality
professional development programs at all levels. A description of what is to be
learned by educators, and how learning opportunities would be best designed, is
provided for each of the four dimensions.
I ALREADY HAVE LEARNING OBJECTIVES FOR MY CLASSES. DO I NEED TO
REWRITE MY LESSONS?
Teachers can use the "Benchmarks" to compare and contrast their
lessons and objectives with those advocated by the reform movement. The
"Benchmarks" provide what is needed to produce guidelines for what students
should know at each level, grades K-12. It outlines what should be introduced,
in all major disciplines, at every educational stage. The "Standards," Chapter
7, emphasizes the importance for teachers to re-evaluate their objectives and
teaching methods. Consistency, relevance, and integration of math and science
are key issues under these standards.
SELECTED INTERNET RESOURCES
-National Academy Press
Full text of the Standards online along with ordering information.
-American Association for the Advancement of Science
The homepage for Project 2061.
-National Science Teachers Association
-Information on the Scope, Sequence and Coordination project.
The NSTA home page is: http://www.nsta.org/
-Eisenhower National Clearinghouse
Online documents include many articles on education standards.
Newsletters on issues in school reform, many relating to setting and meeting
-Developing Educational Standards
An annotated list of Internet sites with educational standards and curriculum
frameworks documents by state or subject matter.
American Association for the Advancement of
Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University
Press. [SE 058 900]
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. (1995). Redesigning the science
curriculum: A report on the implications of standards and benchmarks for science
education. A paper presented at the Rethinking the Science Curriculum: A
Conference: Science Curriculum in an Era of Standards-Based Reform, Cheyenne
Mountain Conference Resort, Colorado Springs, CO.
National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards.
Washington, DC: National Academy Press. [ED 391 690]
Rutherford, F.J. (1996). A perspective on reform in mathematics and science
education [Monograph #2, Project 2061]. Columbus, OH: The Eisenhower National
Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education. [SE 057 921]
Rutherford, F.J., & Ahlgren, A. (1990). Science for all Americans. New
York: Oxford University Press.
Strassenburg, A.A. (1996). A perspective on reform in mathematics and science
education [Monograph #3, The National Science Teachers Association]. Columbus,
OH: The Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education.
[SE 058 544]
Vos, K.E. (1996).A perspective on reform in mathematics and science education
[Monograph #1, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics]. Columbus, OH:
The Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education. [SE