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Publishing of the National Science Education Standards

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Inspired by the publication of Science for All Americans (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990) and the initial development of Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993), the National Research Council (a part of the National Academies) began development of national science standards in 1992. The council used these two publications as a foundation for the standards and indicated that the standards were appropriate for all students but were not meant to be a science curriculum. This idea was supported by many education professionals. As Resnick and Nolan (1995) had stated, "The challenge for the United States is to create a national agenda for excellence that can raise the performance of all students without creating a national exam or curriculum. Each community must adapt the agenda in unique ways that nonetheless work in unison" (p. 10).

Development of the standards was completed in 1995, and the National Research Council published the National Science Education Standards in 1996. The purpose of the publication was stated as follows:

"The National Science Education Standards present a vision of a scientifically literate populace. They outline what students need to know, understand, and be able to do to be scientifically literate at different grade levels. They describe an educational system in which all students demonstrate high levels of performance, in which teachers are empowered to make the decisions essential for effective learning, in which interlocking communities of teachers and students are focused on learning science, and in which supportive educational programs and systems nurture achievement. The Standards point toward a future that is challenging but attainable." (National Research Council, 1996, p. 2)

The publication is divided into two parts: (1) the content of science, and (2) the components of the education system that need to change to improve science education for all.

To build the foundational awareness level within the educational community, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) developed a position statement on the standards as well as a series of publications called NSTAPathways to the Science Standards , available for elementary, middle, secondary, and college levels. These four booklets, available on the NSTA’s Teacher Resources: National Science Education Standards Web site are first steps to understanding the standards.

Besides attempts to understand the science standards, efforts have been made to pose key questions about the impact of national standards on education during the last two decades. The Committee on Understanding the Influence of Standards in K–12 Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education was formed. It was charged with the task of looking at the influence of standards in education and gleaning recommendations from the findings. In 2001, the committee reported its recommendations in Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (Weiss, Knapp, Hollweg, & Burrill, 2001). The publication indicates a framework to reveal the influence of standards on mathematics, science, and technology education. It presents studies relevant to the standards, provides a conceptual tool for analyzing these studies, raises questions for future studies, and identifies gaps in current research.

 In 2003, seven years after the publication of the National Science Education Standards, a workshop was held to review the evidence on the influence of the standards. During the workshop, titled "What Is the Influence of the National Science Education Standards? Reviewing the Evidence" discussions revealed that standards provided a vision statement to be used as a starting point for other organizations concerned with the improvement of science education. This vision statement provided states with a roadmap to use when creating their own standards, and "raised the debate" regarding the issue of science standards (Hollweg & Hill, 2003, p. 3). Among the workshop attendees were representatives from professional organizations of scientists and science educators, teachers, school district officials, teacher educators, researchers, curriculum developers, textbook publishers, government agencies, science centers, and museums. One workshop attendee cited the increased emphasis on inquiry in the science curriculum; another attendee pointed to the "strong influence" standards on professional development for teachers (Hollweg & Hill, 2003, p. 3).

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