Science Curriculum Review Report

The science curriculum review committee report is on agenda for Tuesday’s ICCSD school board meeting.

A few comments on the report follow, but first three things to be aware of with regard to science standards in Iowa:

  • In August 2015, the Iowa State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards performance expectations, as described in the Science Standards Review Team Report, as the Iowa Science Standards.
  • The Iowa Science Standards are required to be implemented in grades K-5 and 9-12 plus one middle school grade by the 2018-19 school year; an additional middle school grade by the 2019-20 school year; and the final middle school grade by the 2020-21 school year. [Iowa Science Standards Implementation Plan]
  • The Iowa Science Standards are minimum requirements. From the Science Standards Review Team Report (page 41): “It is important to remember standards are the minimum requirements for all students and that those who are planning to major in science will need/want to take more advanced courses.”

The report starts out with a mission statement. I don’t generally hold out much hope for mission statements, but this one particularly disappoints me somehow. I’d like to see the District embrace a straightforward mission involving knowledge–that students should know a lot more stuff after attending our schools than they did before. But I’d also like to see the District explicitly state that the mission is to not just meet minimum state requirements but to also exceed them by providing a college preparatory education to students who choose it.

One of the identified limitations of the District science program is that “40% of parents do not believe Foundations of Science III prepared students for future science classes.” This is at odds with administrator and teacher opinion that the Foundations of Science courses do prepare students for future science classes.

This difference of opinion should have prompted a review of the Foundations III course, including, perhaps, further survey questions to determine where parents believe the course to fall short. The report provides no evidence that has happened, and instead recommends that all 9th grade students be required to take the Foundations III course (or whatever replaces it as the 9th grade science course) without exception. The report also  recommends that the value of the course be better communicated to parents, signaling, perhaps, that the District thinks 40% of the parents are just wrong or misinformed.

Note that the communication is meant to include information on how the Foundations III course emphasizes improving science skills–such as organization, lab skills, and measurement–needed to be more successful in upper level courses. My guess is that parents who believe the course isn’t helpful have students who already possessed sufficient science skills to succeed in upper level science course work.

If the K-6 math curriculum has adequate coverage of units of measurement, including metric system units, I’m hard pressed to see how students need all of ninth grade to prepare to measure things in high school science lab courses. Graduated cylinders, beakers, scales–none of this should be that difficult to work with after short explanation from the teacher. And if the K-6 math curriculum is lacking in coverage of units of measurement, maybe that should be remedied before requiring all students to take Foundations of Science III.

As for “lab skills”, I don’t know what specifically they think 9th grade students are lacking, but I can’t see why specific lab skills can’t be developed through lab work in biology, chemistry, and physics courses; in fact, that seems like the ideal place to develop disciplinary specific lab skills.

In any case, it seems unreasonable to me that ICCSD students should be expected to double up on core courses (see recommendation for concurrent enrollment in 9th grade science and biology). University-bound students need time in their schedules for four years of a world language and arts,music, or other elective courses.

The review report references ACT Science scores, but does not indicate that the review committee collected information on university minimum coursework entrance requirements to ensure that recommendations for secondary course changes don’t disadvantage university-bound students.

In fact, I think all secondary curriculum review reports should provide overviews of current university minimum coursework entrance requirements, including college specific requirements, and course sequence maps demonstrating how District course offerings will allow students to meet those entrance requirements. The science report, in particular, should provide a map showing NGSS minimum course sequence path, an accelerated college prep science course sequence path, and a twice accelerated college prep science course sequence plus AP science course work path.

In short, I’d like to see the board ask the administration–before the District buys or develops new instructional materials–to communicate the possible science course pathways created by the science curriculum recommendations or other proposed or anticipated changes to science courses, ask them to communicate how those pathways satisfy university entrance requirements (and which ones–some colleges set higher requirements), and to ask the administration to come back with other ideas for offering accelerated secondary course work in science that don’t require students to double up on science courses.