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State Board of Education begins in-depth review of science standards

Launching a second review of Tennessee education standards within a year, the State Board of Education announced Friday a public review of its proposed new benchmarks for teaching and learning science in grades 3-8.

The state is inviting any Tennessee resident to go online and review the standards, which were developed over the last year by a panel of science educators from across the state, and to suggest changes, if needed, for implementation in Tennessee classrooms in 2018. The standards specify what students are expected to know and do by the end of a given grade or course.

The science review follows the same process used to review the Common Core standards for math and reading. That six-month public review, initiated last fall by Gov. Bill Haslam and borne out of state lawmakers’ unease with the Common Core, wrapped up in April with reviews filed by 2,262 Tennesseans, most of them teachers.

The board also plans to launch a review of state social studies standards in January, two years earlier than required, according to Chairman B. Fielding Rolston. State policy requires that education standards are reviewed at a minimum of every six years.

The science review covers hundreds of standards arranged by grade, course and disciplinary core idea. They range from fifth-grade physical science benchmarks about gravity and matter, to eighth-grade standards about Earth’s place in the universe, to high school physics standards for understanding energy, motion and stability.

Tennessee’s current science standards — called the Tennessee Diploma Project Science Standards and based on the National Science Education Standards — were approved by the State Board of Education in 2008 and implemented the following year. Although Tennessee has made slight gains in science scores on TCAP and end-of-course exams, the Fordham Foundation characterized its K‐12 science framework as a document that was clearly written, but highly disordered, confusing, and missing critical content in every science discipline. The foundation assigned the standards under the Tennessee Diploma Project an overall rating of D.

The review of Tennessee’s proposed new science standards is scheduled to conclude late this fall, sending the results to a team of science educators who will revise the standards again based on the feedback, then post them next spring for another public review. The results will go to a standards recommendation committee, which will propose changes next July to the State Board of Education.

A similar standards recommendation committee for math and reading currently is working on revisions to the Common Core standards, which the State Board of Education adopted in 2010. The panel is scheduled to complete that work in December, and their revisions will be posted to the public again.

The lengthy standards review process was codified during the most recent legislative session in response to criticism of Common Core, which is used in more than 40 states across the nation. The new law mandating a public standards review added more layers to the review process initially ordered by Haslam.

Efforts to update Tennessee’s current science standards have been stymied.

Tennessee was one of the lead states to develop the Next Generation Science Standards, which like the Common Core, are meant to be rigorous standards shared across state lines. However, state leaders opted not to adopt the Next Generation standards, just as they backed away from PARCC, a multi-state testing consortium.

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