LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Research and Development to Inform K-12 Science Education Standards
Throughout this report, the committee has acknowledged that the evidence base on which the framework rests is incomplete. In this final chapter, we lay out aspects of a research and development (R&D) agenda we think is needed to provide evidence-based guidance for future revisions to K-12 science education standards, which we expect will occur within the next 10-15 years. Three factors that have served to stimulate the current attempt are likely to be involved in the future effort: (1) changes in scientific knowledge and priorities; (2) changes in the understanding of science learning and teaching across the K-12 spectrum; and (3) changes in the understanding of how a given set of standards is interpreted, taken up, and used by a variety of players to influence K-12 educational practice and policy.
Given these factors, the R&D agenda proposed here is focused on the latter two areas, that is, on (1) enhancing understanding of how students learn the core ideas and practices of science and how best to support that learning through instruction and (2) developing a better understanding of how nationaland state-level standards are translated and implemented throughout the K-12 science education system and how they eventually change classroom practice and affect student learning. It also addresses three additional elements related to understanding how standards are translated throughout the system: (1) research on K-12 teachers’ knowledge of science and science practices and their teaching practices; (2) research on effective professional development for supporting teachers’ understanding and uses of the standards; and (3) research on the resulting curricula, curriculum materials and technology-based tools, instructional
approaches, and assessments. In addition, investments in the development of the associated curricula and curriculum support materials and technologies, professional development programs, and assessments must be ongoing, first to provide initial versions and then to improve them based on research results.
In each section below, we describe these broad issues for R&D. Finally, recognizing the importance of equity and diversity, we have woven questions related to these issues throughout both major sections of the chapter.
RESEARCH TO INFORM IMPLEMENTATION AND FUTURE REVISIONS OF THE FRAMEWORK
In the following subsections, we lay out a plan for programs of research to examine key elements of science learning and teaching that should serve to influence the future development of science education standards and implementation of the framework. To do so, we draw heavily from the prior National Research Council (NRC) report Learning and Instruction: A SERP Research Agenda, which described a framework for research and development on learning and instruction in the areas of mathematics, literacy, and science .
The research plan we develop here is centrally concerned with issues of teacher practice and curricular resources. The reason is that any set of standards is about expectations for students’ knowledge and proficiency, which are necessarily mediated by (1) the knowledge, wisdom, and practices of teachers; (2) the tools provided to assist them in accomplishing their work; and (3) the contexts that support the intellectual efforts of both teachers and students.
Core Questions Behind an R&D Agenda on Learning and Teaching
The Learning and Instruction report laid out a set of core questions that focus on the normal course of development and learning, as well as on diagnosing and responding to students’ problems in mastering new concepts and acquiring new knowledge and practices . These questions, which provide a schema for examining teaching and learning, highlight the aspects of teachers’ knowledge that must be supported through preservice experience and professional development. They are as follows:
1. What are the typical preconceptions that students hold about the practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas at the outset?
2. What is the expected progression of understanding, and what are the predictable points of difficulty that must be overcome?
3. What instructional interventions (e.g., curriculum materials, teaching practices, simulations or other technology tools, instructional activities) can move students along a path from their initial understanding to the desired outcome?
4. What general and discipline-specific norms and instructional practices best engage and support student learning?
5. How can students of both genders and of all cultural backgrounds, languages, and abilities become engaged in the instructional activities needed to move toward more sophisticated understanding?
6. How can the individual student’s understanding and progress be monitored?
The paragraphs below summarize the committee’s research recommendations corresponding to each of the above questions:
Questions 1 and 2. Insights into typical student preconceptions of a topic and the expected progression of student understanding require careful research on the typical trajectories of learning. This research aims (a) to identify how the nature and limits of children’s cognitive abilities change with age and instruction and (b) to uncover common preconceptions that either support learning (e.g., the ability to halve or double relatively easily in mathematics) or undermine it (e.g., the belief that temperature measures the amount of heat present). Past findings have suggested that students’ preconceptions are resilient, even after specific instruction to the contrary. That resilience highlights the importance of a carefully designed research program to inform and support teaching to achieve conceptual change from naive preconceptions toward a more sophisticated scientific understanding of a topic. Although research of this sort is often the domain of cognitive scientists and education researchers, their efforts can be enriched by the participation of experienced teachers and by detailed study of exemplary practice.
Question 3. Educational experiences intended to move students along a learning path constitute the core of what we consider to be “instruction.” The work of curriculum developers, teachers, and researchers helps to enable these experiences, which may involve specific structured sequences of investigations or the use of simulations, or they may take place across individual units or longer segments of instruction. Regardless of the source, how each of these experiences contributes to
students’ development of more sophisticated understanding of crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, and scientific and engineering practices—and therefore to conceptual change—constitutes an important research agenda. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the instructional approach used—and for what groups of students it is effective—is a matter for empirical testing.
Question 4. General and discipline-specific norms and instructional practices define the expectations for students’ and teachers’ interactions in the classroom. “Classroom learning communities” and how they develop to support effective learning are currently a subject of considerable research in science education. Every such community is distinguished by norms for work and interactions, ranging from when and how people collaborate to how they speak with one another. Some of those norms are general, rooted in the understanding of schools in a democratic society; others are discipline specific—that is, what it means to do mathematics differs from what it means to do chemistry or history. In all cases, the relationships between particular classroom norms and learning outcomes of interest for particular groups of students—for example, distinguished by ethnicity or gender—are a matter for empirical investigation. Another example is that the framework includes a number of discourse practices among the science practices; because such discourses are relatively rare in science classrooms at present, research that focuses on how teachers and students develop the related norms for them will be needed.
Question 5. Assessing students’ engagement in instructional activities requires research on how young people of different backgrounds, cultures, races, genders, abilities, and languages can enter and become full participants in the scientific classroom community. Such research is especially needed if the framework’s expectation that all students will have opportunities for accomplished scientific and engineering learning is to succeed. How best to develop and sustain students’ interest in science is an important part of research in this area.
Question 6. Assessing an individual student’s understanding is the task of research and development on methods and systems of assessment. This knowledge base can quite naturally be developed and tested in the context of curriculum R&D, but it may also draw on more fundamental research—for example, on the nature and measurement of text comprehension.
Key Areas of Research
In the context of the framework, an especially important line of inquiry should involve learning progressions that embed the core ideas and practices spelled out in this document. Such research may focus on a particular core idea and ask what sequence of learning experiences, including engagement in practices, around that idea best advance student understanding and address common misconceptions. Research should also focus on whether other ideas and practices, if found across multiple science topic learning progressions, ought to be specified as well. Such work would be pertinent to Questions 1-6 above, as it would, of necessity, include research on instructional approaches, sequences of curriculum, and students’ progress using those approaches and curricula.
There now exists a set of R&D examples that include progressions for some of the life, physical, and earth sciences core ideas described in the current framework . These examples also include student outcomes and instructional activities that connect very directly to elements of the practices described in the framework. Such work might be seen as constituting a set of downstream cases in which further investment in implementation and testing might prove very valuable, especially in terms of validating the hypothesized progressions and determining efficacy and effectiveness. Much of this work currently falls under the heading of design-based research, and with further investment it might be ready to travel farther via initial efficacy trials, which in turn move into large-scale replication, perhaps with randomized trials.
It is worth noting that, because R&D on learning progressions in science is at an early stage, many aspects of the core ideas and their progressions over time with instruction (as sketched out in the framework) remain unexplored territory. The work needed would probably start with design experiments situated in classrooms that explore (a) how to specify the knowledge to be acquired by students at particular grade bands and (b) what instructional approaches might best support
the proposed progressions. One interesting challenge in such work is that the vast majority of what is known about the development of understanding across the full K-12 grade span is based on cross-sectional designs; available longitudinal work is of limited duration, given the sheer challenges of cost and practical management associated with instructional research of long duration. Thus very little is known about what can develop in later grades on the basis of successful implementation of solid learning progressions for a concept in the earlier grades .
Work on learning progressions will also need to explore how literacy, language skills, and mathematics intersect with learning in science across multiple years of school. This research is important for understanding how the practices develop over time and how learning experiences in other subjects might leverage or be leveraged by learning in science.
Scientific and Engineering Practices
Another key aspect of the current framework is its emphasis on scientific and engineering practices and their integration with the core concepts. Although research has been done on how well students are able to engage in aspects of some of the practices and how engagement in particular practices supports the development of both specific ideas in science and understanding of the nature of science, this work is fragmented. It does not yet provide insight into how students’ proficiency with these practices can develop over multiple years, nor how the full set of practices interacts with understanding of the core ideas and crosscutting concepts. For example, people need to know a great deal more about the levels of sophistication in these practices that are possible as students move from the early grade bands to the later ones. In particular, the proficiencies that they can achieve and the types of instructional materials and methods that can support that learning should be explored. People also need to learn which scientific and engineering practices are likely to pose significant challenges in terms of teacher knowledge with regard both to content and pedagogy.
Development of Curricular and Instructional Materials
As discussed in Chapter 11, the framework and its resulting standards have a number of implications for implementation, one of which involves the need for curricular and instructional materials that embody all three dimensions: scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Some existing materials will be highly compatible with aspects of the framework, others will present implementation issues that bear further study, and there will also be
a need to develop and test new materials and technological tools for learning that work across grades and are aligned with the framework’s key ideas. In the case of new materials, studies of students and teachers will be needed as they interact with them over the short term (units) and long term (learning progressions). Furthermore, new ways of using technology in learning and teaching science and engineering (e.g., capturing data, analyzing and visualizing data, building models) will continue to change what children can learn and be able to do at particular grade bands  and provide new ways of assessing their learning. Thus, research on learning must include research on how technology can be used to support and enhance learning of specific topics.
R&D will also be needed on the intersections of science as described in the framework with literacy and mathematics and the implications for curriculum and instruction. This should include how science curriculum can be designed to best articulate with curriculum in English/language arts and mathematics.
Assessment of the outcomes of learning and instruction—what students know and are able to do—merits special attention in R&D on science education. The high-quality evidence that derives from careful assessment allows practitioners, researchers, and policy makers to explore critical questions about the student’s knowledge or a program’s effectiveness and its possible need for revision
Designing Assessments. The first requirement for developing quality assessments is that the concepts and skills that signal progress toward mastery of a subject be understood and specified. In various areas of the curriculum, such as early reading, early mathematics, and high school physics, substantial work has already been done in this regard. In some cases, researchers have capitalized on such knowledge to develop the elements of an assessment strategy, although that work has generally concentrated on the development of materials for formative assessment [5-7]. But, in general, people have yet to fully capitalize on research and theory to develop valid assessment tools for other aspects of elementary and middle school science.
To design and implement assessments that are fair—that is, valid across different groups of students—it is crucial that patterns of learning for different student populations be studied. But much of the research on current theories of developing knowledge has been conducted with restricted groups of students (mostly middle-class whites). In many cases, it is not clear whether these theories apply equally
well to diverse populations of students, including those who have been poorly served in the science and engineering education system—females, underrepresented minorities, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
Although there are typical learning pathways, often there is not a single pathway to competence. Furthermore, students will not necessarily respond in similar ways to assessment probes designed to diagnose knowledge and understanding. These kinds of natural variations among individuals need to be better understood through empirical study and incorporated into the cognitive models of learning that serve as a basis for assessment design.
Sophisticated models of learning do not by themselves produce high-quality assessment information. Also needed are methods and tools both for eliciting appropriate and relevant data from students and for interpreting the data collected about their performance. As described elsewhere , current measurement methods enable a much broader range of inferences to be drawn about student competence than many people realize. In particular, it is now possible to characterize student achievement in terms of multiple aspects of proficiency rather than in a single score; to chart students’ progress over time instead of simply measuring performance at a particular point; to deal with multiple paths or alternative methods of valued performance; to model, monitor, and improve judgments based on informed evaluations; and to evaluate performance not only at the level of students but also at the levels of groups, classes, schools, and states.
However, further research is needed to (a) investigate the limits and relative usefulness of existing statistical models for capturing critical aspects of learning; (b) develop tools that make it easier for those who have professional interest but do not have the full range of psychometric expertise to apply new measurement approaches; and (c) develop cost-effective tools that allow education professionals, including teachers and policy makers, to use the results of these approaches.
Uses of Assessments. Important issues about assessment use also need to be pursued. Researchers should explore (a) how new forms of assessment can be made both accessible to teachers and practical for use in classrooms; (b) how assessments can be made efficient for use in large-scale testing contexts; (c) how assessments can be designed so that all students have equal opportunities to demonstrate their competencies; (d) how information from classroom-level assessments and large-scale assessments can be combined reliably for use in addressing educational problems; and (e) how various new forms of assessment affect student learning, teacher practice, and educational decision making .
It is particularly important that such work be done in close collaboration with practicing teachers who have diverse backgrounds and varying levels of teaching experience. Also to be studied are ways in which school structures (e.g., class time, class size, mechanisms for teachers to work together) affect the feasibility of new assessment types and their effectiveness.
Supporting Teachers’ Learning
The research base on science teacher learning has been growing , often centered on Shulman’s  framework of teacher knowledge . For example, it is now known that preservice elementary school teachers have some of the same preconceptions of scientific concepts as their students  and that even experienced teachers have difficulty acquiring the kinds of science knowledge and teaching practices that support students’ learning .
Preservice secondary school science teachers sometimes encounter problems with the conceptual content [15, 16] and in implementing aspects of scientific discourses and practices . Similarly, these teachers often have an incomplete understanding of the nature of scientific evidence , and their knowledge about students’ conceptions may be limited .
Thus continued research is needed to better understand the possible longitudinal trajectories that K-12 teachers may take in becoming knowledgeable and accomplished science teachers.
As noted in Learning and Instruction , the questions that frame student learning apply just as aptly to teacher learning. Teachers should understand students’ naive ideas and learning processes well enough to assess and guide them, and they should understand the crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, and scientific and engineering practices well enough to select appropriate instructional materials and strategies and apply them effectively. Teachers should use assessments to plan for, revise, and adapt instruction; to evaluate teaching and learning;
to guide the pace and direction of instruction; and to select tasks, representations, and materials that engage students’ interests and provide learning opportunities.
Teachers’ knowledge of these things allows them to respond to students’ questions and ideas, to probe and correct anomalies in classroom investigations, to understand the curriculum materials well enough to use or revise them flexibly as a means to an end rather than as ends in themselves, to apply norms and practices with sufficient skill to create a supportive and challenging learning environment in the classroom, and to comprehend the content and purposes of assessments with enough depth to interpret the outcomes and respond appropriately.
The typical learning trajectory for teachers and how it changes with learning opportunities also require empirical investigation. Questions for inquiry include: Under what conditions and in what contexts can teachers best learn particular scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas during their teacher preparation and with ongoing professional development? What knowledge and methods are most important for teachers to acquire at the beginning of their careers? What knowledge and methods are better acquired once they enter the profession? What organizational, material, and human resources are necessary to support and sustain teacher learning over time?
UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT OF THE FRAMEWORK AND RELATED-STANDARDS
The R&D agenda for understanding the influence of standards is based heavily on the NRC report Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education  and on a chapter in The Impact of State and National Standards on K-12 Science Teaching , which draws on the NRC report. Although much has changed since these reports were released, including substantial shifts in state and federal education policies, the analysis of the education systems and how standards may influence them is a valuable starting point.
In the subsections that follow, we focus on four components through which the framework and its resulting standards might ultimately influence student learning. These parallel components are also discussed in Chapter 10, which addresses implementation. The purpose of the research on implementation is both to determine whether the framework and standards are being implemented and, more importantly, to identify barriers to implementation and ways to overcome these barriers.
Curriculum and Instructional Materials
The framework intentionally does not prescribe a specific curriculum, but it does imply criteria for designing a curriculum and selecting instructional materials. If the framework were to influence what is taught to students, then curriculum policy, the design and development of instructional materials, including technology-based materials and tools, and the processes and criteria by which such materials were developed, selected, and implemented in classrooms would reflect the framework’s practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.
Enrollment and achievement patterns in schools would reveal whether the vision expressed by the framework applied to all students. For example, if the framework were permeating the system, opportunities for taking challenging science courses would be open to every student, and resources needed to implement a robust standards-based curriculum would be allocated in equitable ways. Resources designed to accommodate diverse learners, including those learning English as a second language, would support the focus of the standards on all students having access to opportunities to learn important science and engineering concepts and practices.
Key questions related to tracing the influence of the framework and standards on the curriculum include
• What curriculum development efforts have been undertaken to provide materials that are well aligned to the framework and new standards? Who was engaged in these efforts? Were any incentives used to encourage these development efforts, and which of them were most effective?
• How do the new curricula differ from those used in the past, and are teachers prepared to address these differences?
• How has the funding from various federal and state agencies been allocated for curriculum development efforts that are aligned with the framework and standards?
• Is technology to support science learning being marshaled and used effectively to develop technology-based curriculum support materials and tools (e.g., simulations, data access)? [4, 22]
• What has been learned about the effectiveness of the new curriculum with various populations and under different implementation conditions?
Teacher and Administrator Development
As noted in Chapter 10 on implementation, the education system provides channels through which the framework might influence how teachers learn to teach science (and continue to improve their science teaching) and how school and district administrators offer instructional leadership in science education.
If the framework were to influence the preparation of new teachers, there would be an increased alignment of related policies and practices with those of the framework. States, districts, and postsecondary institutions, including lateral entry programs, would create mechanisms that enable prospective teachers to gain the knowledge and practices needed to help students meet the expectations outlined in the framework. Teacher preparation programs would prepare prospective teachers to teach in diverse classrooms, and the distribution across schools of teachers with the knowledge and practices for implementing effective science and engineering education would be such that all learners would have access to high-quality learning opportunities.
Policies and fiscal investments at the local, state, and federal levels would focus on recertification criteria, professional development opportunities, and system-wide support strategies aligned with the framework. States and localities would provide a rich framework-based infrastructure to support science and engineering teaching. Teachers would be motivated to enhance their understanding of core concepts and practices described in the framework, and recertification criteria and teacher evaluations would focus on evidence that verified teachers’ knowledge, understanding, and practices were consistent with the framework.
Key questions related to tracing the influence of the framework and standards on teacher and administrator development include
• How have teacher educators used the framework and standards to improve their science teacher preparation programs? What changes have occurred in the science courses taken by preservice teachers? How widespread are these changes, and what policies or incentives were in place in those colleges or universities that successfully redesigned their programs?
• What professional development projects or programs have been enacted to support teachers in implementing instruction that is well matched to the framework and standards? Who was engaged in these efforts? With what results? What strategies or program structures are most successful, and what kinds of incentives or policies lead to teacher participation?
• What changes in teacher certification systems have been enacted to ensure that all students learn science from teachers who are well prepared to teach it? Who was responsible for such changes?
• What steps have been taken to ensure a more equitable distribution of qualified teachers so as to give all students access to learning opportunities consistent with the framework?
• What changes in administrator certification systems have been enacted to ensure that new administrators understand and can use the framework and standards in making decisions about science standards, the selection of science curricula, the design of professional development programs to support teachers, and the evaluation of teachers’ and students’ progress?
• What kinds of professional development programs have been offered to the administrators themselves so that their understanding, interpretation, and uses of the framework and standards support their decision making?
Assessment and Accountability
Consideration of assessment involves a careful study of how it interacts with accountability; how teachers conduct and use classroom and state assessments; how assessment influences teacher practices; and how it is used by schools, states, and districts. Key questions related to tracing the influence of the framework and standards on the assessment and accountability systems include
• What have assessment designers done in response to the framework and its resulting standards?
• Does the full complement of local and state assessments used for accountability cover all of the standards?
• What advances in assessment methodology have been pursued to ensure that assessments reflect the full range and intent of the framework and standards? Who was engaged in developing these advances?
• How can assessments be developed that are fair, both for different demographic groups and for students with disabilities? Have examples of these kinds of assessments for the practices, concepts, and core ideas in the framework been developed and implemented?
Institutional barriers can hamper widespread adoption of framework-based curricula and related approaches to instruction. These barriers include incentive structures, organizational culture, career patterns of teachers and administrators, and financial constraints . This piece of the R&D agenda, which entails both short-term and long-term elements, necessitates uncovering obstacles to system reform and exploring innovative ways to overcome these obstacles. In other words, as emphasized in Chapter 11, the components of the system for science education must be coherent, and all of the players must be actively participating. Key questions include
• What is the process by which the framework is used to craft state-level science standards? Who is involved? How were they chosen?
• How does the capacity of the state and districts to fund education affect the writing of the standards and the development of assessments?
• What is the adoption process for the state science education standards? Is it voluntary or mandatory? What kinds of incentives or support are provided to districts to facilitate this adoption?
• To what extent does the state department of education provide funding for adopting new framework-aligned science curricula and professional development programs for teachers and administrators?
• What kinds of framework-related professional development are provided for state- and district-level science supervisors, superintendents, school boards, and other important policy makers (such as state legislators)? With what results?
• Are resources for science learning and qualified teachers equitably distributed across schools and districts of varying socioeconomic levels and differing populations? What efforts have been made to improve equity of opportunity to learn science?
In this final chapter, we have described the kinds of research that are needed so that, when the time comes to revise standards for K-12 science education, evidence-based decisions can be made about how to improve them. There is a need for ongoing research on science teaching and learning, and particularly on learning progressions for the core ideas detailed here. In addition there is need for research on the impacts and implementation of the next generation of standards, and of this framework, to identify both barriers and effective strategies. Such research needs to consider three levels—system, school, and classroom—in order to effectively inform future decisions about standards. Research on school-level factors—such as professional development targeted at administrators’ and teachers’ knowledge and practices, the design and testing of learning progressions across the framework’s three dimensions—would support choices about where to place particular scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas in future K-12 science standards.
Perhaps most important, research is needed on classroom-level contexts, materials, and discourses that engage and support a wider range of students in high-quality teaching and learning experiences with the concepts, ideas, and practices. Action on this wide-ranging multilevel agenda would make it possible to advance the framework’s vision and continue to improve access for all.
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