« Back to list of position statements
NSTA Position Statement:
The National Science Education Standards
In January 1996 the National Research Council released a comprehensive vision for the improvement of science teaching and learning. This vision has wide support among the science education community as it based upon the seminal works of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Science for All Americans, Benchmarks for Science Literacy). The National Science Education Standards are not a “national curriculum” nor a prescription to be followed by all schools and school districts regardless of local concerns and needs. Rather, the Standards represent a vision of science education ranging from the specifics of classroom practice to the overall organization of the educational system. More succinctly, the Standards present a view of a scientifically literate populace. Although the Standards represent an ambitious ideal that will take much time to realize, they are practical in their recognition of the realities of classroom life and the various factors that impinge on educational change.
Standards, quite simply, refer to a level of quality. They provide a goal toward which one aspires. For example, standards of science teaching are criteria by which to judge the quality of science instruction, standards for science programs are criteria for judging the quality of science programs, and so on. Although words such as “quality” and “judge” have evaluative connotations, the National Science Education Standards provide a mechanism by which to judge progress toward a desired goal. In this case, the goal is scientific literacy, a goal that we arguably all share in common.
Americans strongly value local control over their educational systems and the National Science Education Standards emphasize the importance of local control. The Standards are not an attempt to provide standardized criteria for all educational systems across the U.S. Rather, they provide a framework by which states, local school boards, administrators, teachers, and citizens can make decisions about how well their educational system supports, and is progressing toward, a scientifically literate society. The National Science Education Standards were developed through a cooperative effort of teachers, school administrators, parents, curriculum developers, college faculty and administrators, scientists, engineers, and government officials. The Standards, both in vision and development, truly exemplify American pluralism.
The values and goals of educational systems are dynamic. They change in response to the needs of our citizens and society. Consequently, the Standards should not be viewed as rigid prescriptions and guidelines. They, too, are dynamic and will change in response to our society’s needs. However, a shared vision must exist if we are to mobilize all aspects of our educational systems and produce coherent efforts toward a common end. The National Science Education Standards provide such a vision. Without a reference point, progress can not be gauged. If we don’t know where we are going, how will we know when we get there? The Standards allow us to address this critical question. The National Science Teachers Association strongly supports the National Science Education Standards by asserting that:
- Teachers, regardless of grade level, should promote inquiry-based instruction and provide classroom environments and experiences that facilitate students’ learning of science.
- Professional development activities should involve teachers in the learning of science and pedagogy through inquiry, and integrate knowledge of science, learning, and pedagogy.
- Teachers should continually assess their own teaching and student learning.
- Assessment practices should be varied and focus on both achievement and opportunity to learn, be consistent with the decisions they are designed to inform, and result in sound and fair decisions and inferences.
- Subject matter stress should be on in-depth understandings of unifying concepts, principles, and themes with less emphasis placed upon lower-level skills, such as the memorization of numerous facts.
- Inquiry should be viewed as an instructional outcome (knowing and doing) for students to achieve in addition to its use as a pedagogical approach.
- Science programs should provide equitable opportunities for all students and should be developmentally appropriate, interesting and relevant to students, inquiry-oriented, and coordinated with other subject matters and curricula.
- Science programs should be viewed as an integral part of a larger educational system that should have policies that are consistent with, and support, all Standards areas and are coordinated across all relevant agencies, institutions, and organizations.
Achievement of the Standards vision will not occur without the support and efforts of all those dedicated to quality science education. In order to support movement toward the vision, it is further asserted that:
- Every teacher of science and/or school building should have a copy of the National Science Education Standards.
- Schools and school districts should provide teachers with professional development activities dedicated to implementation of the Standards.
- Preservice and inservice teacher programs should be Standards-based.
- Professional organizations in science and science education should align their efforts to support implementation of the Standards.
The Standards are not limited to the specification of what students need to know and be able to do. Rather, they address the educational system as a whole and require that all aspects of the educational system change. In this way, the Standards provide for sustainable change and they provide you with a dynamic environment in which educational change can realistically occur and be maintained.
How Can You Help the Vision Become a Reality?
The Science Education System Standards are presented at the end of the Standards document. Furthermore, the last area of consideration refers specifically to responsible individuals taking leadership roles in the dissemination and implementation of the Standards vision. Although individuals from all walks of life are ultimately impacted by the Standards, it is the science teacher who will necessarily live the vision each day. The ultimate success of the Standards vision and the effort to improve science teaching and learning rests most directly with the classroom teacher. It is incumbent upon classroom teachers to become as knowledgeable as possible about the Standards and then, in turn, assist in the dissemination of the vision to colleagues, administrators, parents, community leaders, and policy makers. NSTA actively supports your efforts to achieve the Standards vision. We all share in common the vision so eloquently expressed in the Standards. At long last, it is time to open the doors of our rooms and create an unobstructed vision.
The National Science Education Standards (1996) is available from the National Academy Press or can be accessed through the Internet. The Standards are organized into six general areas, which are summarized as follows:
Science Teaching Standards: Describe what teachers of science should know and be able to do.
Professional Development Standards: Present a vision for the development of professional knowledge and skills among teachers.
Assessment Standards: Provide criteria against which to judge the quality of assessment practices.
Science Content Standards: Outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K–12 education.
Science Education Program Standards: Describe the conditions necessary for quality school programs.
Science Education System Standards: Provide criteria for judging the performance of the overall science education system.
NSTA Projects Actively Support the Standards
NSTA’s support for the National Science Education Standards is more than rhetoric. The innovative Building a Presence for Science program will bring the National Science Education Standards to every school building in the U.S. Each building will receive at least one copy of the National Science Education Standards and will have a Point of Contact (POC), or local resource person, to assist colleagues with conceptualizing and implementing the Standards. Each POC will also receive copies of NSTA’s Pathways to the Science Standards. A separate Pathways book is devoted to elementary, middle, high school, and college levels and teachers are provided with concrete visions of the Standards in classroom practice. Most importantly, each book recognizes that achievement of the vision is a gradual process that will be enacted differently in different locations. Finally, NSTA continues to present professional development seminars/workshops at each of its meetings in an effort to gradually and systematically move the Standards vision into reality.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1990. Science for all Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1993. Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Brown, J. S., A. Collins, and P. Duguid. 1989. Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher 18: 32–42.
Carey, S. 1985. Conceptual change in childhood. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Champagne, A. B., and S. T. Newell. 1992. Directions for research and development: Alternative methods of assessing scientific literacy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 29(8): 841–860.
Cohen, D. K., and D. L. Ball. 1990. Relations between policy and practice: A commentary. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 12(3): 249–256.
Darling-Hammond, L. 1993. Reframing the school reform agenda: Developing capacity for school transformation. Phi Beta Kappan June: 712–726.
Driver, R. 1989. Students’ conceptions and the learning of science: Introduction. International Journal of Science Education 11(5): 481–490.
Driver, R., E. Guense, and A. Tiberghien. 1985. Children’s ideas in science. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Driver, R., A. Squires, P. Rushworth, et al. 1994. Making sense of secondary science: Research into children’s ideas. London: Routledge.
Fensham, P. J., R. F. Gunstone, and R. T. White. 1994. The content of science: A constructivist approach to its teaching and learning. Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.
Fullan, M., and S. Stiegelbauer. 1991. The new meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press.
Lederman, N. G. 1992. Students’ and teachers’ conceptions of the nature of science: A review of research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 29(4): 331–360.
Lieberman, A. 1988. Building a professional culture in schools. New York: Teachers College Press.
Loucks-Horsley, S., P. W. Hewson, N. Love, et al. 1998. Designing professional development for teachers of science and mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Press Inc.
Longino, H. E. 1990. Science as social knowledge: Values and objectivity in scientific inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
National Research Council. 1996. The national science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
National Science Teachers Association. 1996. NSTA pathways to the science standards: High school edition, eds. J. Texley and A. Wild. Arlington, VA: Author.
National Science Teachers Association. 1997. NSTA pathways to the science standards: Elementary school edition, ed. L. Lowery. Arlington, VA: Author.
Resnick, L. B., and L. E. Klopfer, eds. 1989. Toward the thinking curriculum: Current cognitive research. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Ruiz-Primo, M. A., G. P. Baxter, and R. J. Shavelson. 1993. On the stability of performance Assessments. Journal of Educational Measurement 30(1): 41–53.
Shulman, L. S. 1987. Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review 57(1): 1–22.
—Adopted by the NSTA Board of Directors