SEATTLE (AP) — State officials, paid consultants and interested volunteers are making efficient progress toward revising the Washington science education standards but the leader of the committee managing the effort says their work may be wasted if things don't change in the classroom.
"Our standards aren't bad. I don't think the science WASL is that bad, but we still only have 36 percent of students passing," Jeff Vincent, chairman of the state Board of Education's science committee, said Friday.
The board on Thursday approved the final report from a consultant hired to review the science stand ards. The next step is an overhaul of the standards by the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
After the new standards are approved by the Legislature, the superintendent's office will pick the two or three science programs at each grade level that best align with the new standards. Then the science WASL will be revised to measure the new standards.
All these steps are supposed to be completed in time for Washington students to learn enough to pass the science WASL, which the Legislature put on hold as a high school graduation requirement until 2013.
Vincent said moving the standards from good to great and adjusting the WASL to meet the new standards or designing a new assessment won't be enough to get to the WASL passing rate that Washington's high school students are reaching in reading and writing.
"We need to invest in the science delivery system," including buying the right books, getting the right tools and making sure teachers are trained to use them," said Vincent, who is CEO of Seattle-based investment company Laird Norton Co.
Kids are doing worse on the science section of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning than they're doing in math — a little more than a third of 10th graders passed the science WASL in 2007. About half of 10th graders passed the math WASL in 2007.
Only 2.8 percent of 10th graders learning English as a second language passed the 2007 science WASL. The 10th grade pass rate for African American and Hispanic high school students is less than 15 percent.
The president of David Heil & Associates, the consulting company that wrote the review, agreed that what happens in the classroom once the standards are finished was one of the central ideas coming out of the review process.
"It was something of an epiphany for the state," David Heil said. "If this gets fixed, Washington ... will lead the pack nationally."
More than 600 people commented on the science standards review through an online survey and dozens more participated in focus groups.
Heil said the most interesting comments came from recent high school graduates who shared the things they wish they had known before they went to college. Educators who gave feedback asked for better supplies and curriculum materials.
"The standards are not the problem," one survey respondent wrote. "The problem is everyone is guessing at how to cover the standards. Why not spend time finding materials that accomplish the standards instead of moving the target?"
Comments questioning the approach of the science committee concerned raising the rigor of the science education.
Some people questioned whether the science curriculum was already too difficult for 10th graders who are not college bound. Some teachers were worried about adding more items to the pile of academic goals.
Heil said he believes some people did not understand what the committee meant by increasing rigor.
"Depth is of greater value than breadth," he said, adding that most of the increased rigor would be accomplished by teaching concepts in earlier grades and by spreading the coursework over 13 years.
The report wants the standards to devote more attention to the "abilities" of inquiry _ how to do scientific research. The standards document also should be organized more simply and written in a clearer, more specific way.
The report calls for adding one major theme to science education across the grades: science in personal and social perspectives. This refers to teaching students how science relates to their everyday lives, including their effect the environment and their personal health.
"Not everyone's going to be a scientist, but everyone is going to live in a complex world," Heil said.
— The Associated Press