Saturday, June 27, 2009

Science Instructional Materials Recommendations

One of the outcomes of Washington Learns and the 2007 Legislative session was the mandate for OSPI to recommend no more than three sets of core instructional materials for math and science for elementary, middle, and high school. The math recommendations (released in January 2009) are still undergoing various slings and arrows. It is now science's turn.

You can read the report here and get additional information on the tools and processes here.

I don't think you'll have any great surprises. FOSS isn't #1 for elementary, which will no doubt be of great dismay to LASER, ESDs, and many school districts. However, most of us who have done some intensive alignment with the prior standards already knew that this program wasn't the most viable option. A text-based program currently leads the pack at all grade-levels. Personally, I think this is just fine. After all, it's not the material that makes the difference---it's the instruction.

Recommendations to the Legislature will not be final until the end of August, so you have plenty of time to weigh in with your opinion. There are some significant weaknesses with the process used and school districts would be wise to take many many grains of salt along with the OSPI report.

  • Page 21 of the report states (emphasis added): To develop the review instruments, OSPI engaged the Instructional Materials Advisory Group in two full cycles of development and revision. The IMR Advisory Group and the SBE Science Panel were the two primary groups contributing to the development of the instruments. Their work was research based, and used the following primary sources: 2009 Revised Washington State Science Standards; National Science Education Standards, (National Research Council, 1993); How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, 2000); Ready, Set , Science: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Classrooms (Shouse, Schweingruber, 2008); Atlas for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vol. 1, 2001 and Vol. 2, 2007. None of these resources constitute primary sources: They do not contain original research---only interpretations of the work of others. There was absolutely no inclusion of educational research. For my money, this does not qualify as a "research base."
  • There was a "Conceptual Review Process" after the initial review. The process currently carries no weight in the evaluation, but will be used a filter for final recommendations. From page 29 of the review (emphasis added): The final review process was a detailed review of a few Big Ideas across multiple grade levels or units to see how the instructional material developed, supported and synthesized students’ deep conceptual understanding of scientific inquiry, applications, systems and the domains of science. The problem with this portion of the review is the lack of definition about what a "concept" is. The revised science standards use a concept as something that happens at a grade level---not as something which develops over time. And yet this portion of the review is centered upon spiraling ideas. This is not the only place in the review where there is no explicit definition of terms, making the value of the recommendations problematic at best...and useless at worst.
While the review is supposedly open for feedback at this time, there is no public process in place for the collection. This makes it even more important for those in the public schools to cast a very critical eye on the science recommendations before making any decisions which will affect students.

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