July/August 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 8

State of Science Education in California

Posted: Friday, April 1st, 2011

The following is a reasonable accounting of the content of my presentation at the Science Matters Town Hall Meeting at the NSTA Conference in San Francisco in early March.

In science, we often talk of things in pairs, action-reaction, oxidation-reduction, dominant and recessive, predator and prey, S-waves and P-waves, Adenine and Thymine, Guanine and Cytocine, and I guess, when asked to comment on the state of science education in California, from the teachers’ perspective, I would have to say that it could be better and it could be worse.

In California, we have a desire and a goal to prepare more students to enter science and, or STEM related fields in college, yet our state only requires two years of science for graduation from high school. This lack of commitment to the importance of science as a part of the core curriculum results in a wide range of science achievement amongst high school students. For example, The Sacramento Bee recently reported dramatic gains in test scores for students in some California schools, yet statewide CST and NAEP test data clearly show that many California students are lagging behind in science proficiency. That same NAEP data reveals that there is no longer a significant difference in the performance of males and females on national assessments, yet African American and Latino students as well as students of poverty score as much as 32 points lower than their white and Asian peers on these same tests. Clearly, dramatic gains in test scores are not universal. There are still large populations of students struggling to achieve in science.

Part of the discrepancy in achievement levels lies in the structural treatment of science as a component of the curriculum. With the onset of the State Assessment Program, California developed a set of gold-level science content standards outlining the content for all grade levels. Unfortunately, in the implementation of those standards, we only assess science for all students in grades 5, 8, and 10. The implication of this testing format is that little science is taught in elementary schools before grade 5. At a critical, formative time in their developmental lives, many children in California are not receiving any science instruction or, at best, woefully inadequate instruction for a few minutes each week. In essence, the statewide focus on math and literacy, both in curricula and assessment, results in an early childhood curricula that is devoid of the rich, thought-provoking experiences that science provides.  This dearth of quality science instruction at an early age robs students of the foundational knowledge and curiosity necessary for accessing more advanced studies in science and technology.

As science teachers, we want our students to propose experiments, collect and analyze data, and draw evidence based conclusions – yet the policy makers increase class size, decrease budgets, and expect teachers to cover all of the standards associated with content-rich areas and to do this in less than 85% of the instructional days in any given academic year.

To say that science teachers in California are confused and perplexed by the mixture of messages that they are receiving about what, how much, and how to teach science would be an understatement. When the California science content standards were adopted and implemented in 1998, teachers’ first comments focused on the number of standards to be covered, the age appropriateness of the content, and the vast amount of detail that students were expected to “know”.  Their sense of being overwhelmed was only exacerbated when teachers realized, and in many cases were told, that science instruction was not considered a core content area. The significance of this decision lay in the fact that that if science was not considered part of the core curriculum, and if it was not going to be tested at every grade level, then it would not be taught at those levels. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we are seeing in many, if not most, elementary schools today. Science has been de-emphasized or eliminated from the core curriculum due to the fact that science test scores represent only 7 percent of an elementary school’s measure of Academic Progress Indicators (API).

The ultimate result of these factors is only now becoming clear. Students are beginning their first real exposures to science in the seventh grade. By this late date, they universally lack the six years of foundational science that is described in the standards, and that would engage students in thinking critically about the world, how it works, and how it applies to their lives.

In California, we talk about our technology-based economy. Our leaders promote the idea that a reinvestment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will encourage more people to pursue STEM-based studies and careers, and that this reinvestment will ultimately return California and the nation to a leadership role in new and emerging fields of science, medicine, and technology. Yet current policies and practices have resulted in exactly the opposite effect. Enrollment in STEM majors, and the pursuit of science or STEM-based careers has failed to keep up with the national and worldwide demand for a scientifically literate population.

In California, we must explore ways to challenge the status quo and to promote more science instruction in schools. We must work to convince the decision makers and stakeholders that science is a key part of our future. We must be ready to invest the time and energy to promote high-quality instruction and assessment of science at all grade levels. Finally we must be willing to make the sacrifices that will be necessary to ensure that this vision of a return to a leadership role for California, and the nation, happens. To quote a friend, “The current emphasis on STEM careers and the emerging conversation about the need to regain our economic vigor has opened the door for science education by just a crack. As science education professionals, we can push the door open and enter the new age of science education in California or we can let the door shut. One moves us forward into the 21st century and the other will maintain a status quo born in the 1990s.”

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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CTC Seeking Educators for Science Standard Setting Conference

Posted: Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and Evaluation Systems group of Pearson are currently seeking California science educators to participate in a Science Standard Setting Conference for the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) program. Each standard setting panel is scheduled to meet for one-day, in Sacramento, California. The fields and dates are listed below:

Multiple Subjects Subtest II (Science), Monday, October 2, 2017
Science Subtest II: Physics, Monday, October 2, 2017
Science Subtest II: Chemistry, Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Science Subtest II: Life Sciences, Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Science Subtest II: Earth and Space Sciences, Thursday, October 5, 2017
Science Subtest I: General Science, Friday, October 6, 2017

The purpose of the conference is for panel members to make recommendations that will be used, in part, by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) in setting the passing standard, for each field, in support of the updated California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET).

Click here to nominate educators. If you are interested in participating yourself, complete an application here for consideration.

Eligibility:

Public school educators who are:

• Certified in California
• Currently practicing (or have practiced within the last school year) in one or more of the fields listed above. 

College faculty who are:

• Teacher preparation personnel (including education faculty and arts and sciences faculty)
• Practicing (or have practiced within the last school year) in one or more of the fields listed above, and
• Preparing teacher candidates in an approved California teacher preparation program.

 Benefits of Participation Include:
• Receive substitute reimbursement for their school (public school educators only),
• Have the opportunity to make a difference in California teacher development and performance,
• Have the opportunity for professional growth and collaboration with educators in their field,
• Be reimbursed for their travel and meal expenses, and
• Be provided with hotel accommodations, if necessary.

For more information, visit their website at www.carecruit.nesinc.com/cset/index.asp

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.