IMPLEMENTING INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS FOR THE NGSS
Implementation is how instructional materials ultimately make a difference for student learning. This process not only involves addressing the professional learning needs of teachers to teach Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States (hereafter referred to as “the NGSS”; NGSS Lead States, 2013) science in their classrooms, but also building the capacity within schools, districts, and states to support and sustain these new ways of teaching and to help all students reach their highest learning potential. Workshop participants examined challenges and opportunities for achieving equity in science education, approaches to professional learning, and ways to build the capacity of schools, districts, and states. Finally, participants offered their ideas for next steps in the design, distribution, selection, and implementation of instructional materials for the NGSS.
EQUITY: SUPPORTING HIGH-QUALITY SCIENCE INSTRUCTION FOR ALL STUDENTS
The importance of equity in science education and the role that instructional materials can play was an important theme throughout the workshop. The topic was also the particular focus of a panel discussion. Leon Walls of the University of Vermont and Eileen Parsons of the University of North Carolina described the nature of the problem, including why, how, and to what extent disparities exist in opportunities and outcomes for children of color and from low-income backgrounds. Alberto Rodriguez of Purdue University and Lizette Burks of the Kansas State Department of Education described the opportunities that exist for developers and implementers of instructional materials to address these challenges.
Understanding the Problem
“Arguably, the most pressing challenge facing U.S. education is to provide all students with a fair opportunity to learn,” stated Leon Walls, quoting from A Framework for K-12 Science Education (hereafter referred to as “the Framework”; National Research Council, 2012, p. 281). Meeting this challenge has been persistently difficult to overcome. The long-standing issues of racism in society, and racially and economically segregated neighborhoods still exist, he pointed out. In addition, school segregation is rising because the coupling of school compensation with housing patterns is growing tighter while judicial oversight over student school assignments is shrinking, Walls noted. “Students who grow up and have different lived experiences see and understand science completely differently, and we have to understand that,” he emphasized. Decades of research show that this economic and racial segregation is harmful to students who attend segregated minority schools, and these inequities in schools, districts, and communities are linked to different opportunities to learn and to differences in achievement (National Research Council, 2012).
One potential cause of these discrepancies is the unequal access to material resources and instructional supports that are needed to provide exemplary science instruction to all students on a regular basis. This is especially true for black children in the United States, explained Walls. Although most elementary students receive little instruction in science regardless of background, in schools serving the most academically at-risk students, there is almost a total absence of science in the early elementary grades, he said. Moreover, elementary teachers often feel ill-prepared to teach science when they do, he added. Therefore, students without the means to take advantage of opportunities to learn science outside of school can end up at a developmental disadvantage relative to those who do.
In addition to these societal and systemic challenges, terminology used to describe children—“minorities,” “underserved,” or “at-risk”—can be a barrier to an equitable education because the language often represents a set of beliefs about what children of color are capable of learning. “If we, in our classrooms and in our institutions, still refer to children of color in terms that signal to them that they are outside of everything, it is not going to change the instruction,” he stated. Enacting the NGSS and making science education more equitable will mean changing the way that teachers and others think about children of color, according to Walls.
Opportunities exist to make science education more equitable. The NGSS can and should serve as a catalyst toward that goal, even if external or societal barriers persist, noted Walls. Resources, including the Framework and existing research on
culturally relevant pedagogy, offer important ways that instruction can be more inclusive and motivating for diverse groups of students, he said. Short-term strategies for addressing these issues can include forming researcher-practitioner partnerships that are centered on addressing equity or ensuring that assessments are meeting the needs of all students, said Philip Bell of the University of Washington, in a follow-up comment. Longer-term efforts could focus on fostering a more diverse field of developers, researchers, and educators in science education, Bell added.
Understanding the Need for Equality and Equity: Data on Racial Disparities in Access and Achievement
Eileen Parsons presented insights and data on racial equity and equality in education to provide a context for considering the rationale for addressing these issues in science education and instructional materials. Racial disparities in education have been persistent and changing far too slowly at a time when quality of life and economic prospects are increasingly dependent on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, she said. The STEM fields continue to have an overrepresentation of whites relative to other groups, even though as of 2014, there is not a single racial numerical majority in the U.S. school-age population. Fortune 500 companies are beginning to work to increase diversity; it is now urgent to address disparities in schools, according to Parsons.
One reason for the lack of progress in addressing disparities among groups is the current equality approach used. Providing the same opportunities to all groups assumes a level playing field and leaves intact the political, economic, social, and educational barriers that some groups face, she said. Figure 5-1 illustrates this approach. For example, black and Hispanic children experience higher rates of poverty relative to white children, even controlling for the educational attainment of their parents.
Equality is a national ideal, explained Parsons, but schools remain highly segregated, and the vestiges of an educational system initially engineered to be unequal remain. In fact, as recently as 2015, only 5 percent of white students attended schools where the student body was 75 percent or more minority students, whereas 57 percent of black students and 60 percent of Hispanic students attended these schools. This is problematic in part because decades of data show that resources follow white students. This means that even achieving the goal of providing equal opportunities for all students is not yet occurring. Figure 5-2 illustrates the differences in access to mathematics and science courses among white, Hispanic, and black students.
These student groups differ in achievement, as illustrated by differences in science performance. Trends in science performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show an unchanged achievement gap from 2009 through 2015, with whites outperforming black and Hispanic students at ages 9, 13, and 17 (see Figure 5-3).
“What we need is equality and equity,” stated Parsons. Although the same opportunities should be provided (equality), equity means that remedies to respond to an uneven playing field are also needed. This concept is difficult to accept in the United States because it challenges the narrative that individuals can overcome any obstacle or life condition. Many conditions that children face set them on trajectories that require equity-based approaches to change, according to Parsons. As demographic diversity and the size of the U.S. science and engineering workforce grow, there is a pressing need to address the potential of a wider segment of the population, she explained.
Developers of instructional materials for science education can take three actions to help address these needs, suggested Parsons. First, developers can be mindful of the larger context and the conditions that could impede the effectiveness of their materials when the materials are implemented and provide guidance to overcome those obstacles. In addition, developers should identify the minimum implementation conditions necessary for their materials to have an impact on student learning in the classroom. Second, developers should consider their content, and whether the knowledge being gained differs by population. She suggested that they determine the impact of that knowledge in terms of change in life trajectory for students. Third, developers should build scaffolds for learning into the materials, as well as external resources for teachers and schools to increase their ability to be used effectively. Such scaffolds should supplement materials in ways that differences in backgrounds are not positioned as deficits, she added.
Making Instructional Materials Culturally and Socially Relevant
Alberto Rodriguez provided practical guidance on avoiding seven common pitfalls in attempting to make instructional materials for science education more culturally and socially relevant. He first asked participants to consider an example from a popular engineering curriculum that featured colorful pictures of siblings traveling around the world because, he said, it illustrates two of these pitfalls.
The first pitfall he described—180-degree extreme stereotype reversal—occurs when an extreme example that has little basis in reality is included to compensate for a previous lack of representation of diversity. In this example, two siblings traveling the world without their parents illustrates this type of problem. The example also illustrates a second pitfall—using people of color as a colorful background. With no context to connect to the siblings, their inclusion can either lead to distraction because they are unrelatable, or to resentment because the students of color are being used like a backdrop.
A third pitfall to avoid, explained Rodriguez, is limiting creativity. Telling students to be as creative as they like, but constraining the materials they can use, for example, unnecessarily restricts creativity. Rodriguez suggested that students be provided with more opportunities to try different equipment or apply creativity within the constraints of the project, rather than having to follow prescribed procedures.
Rodriguez also suggested that too little time is spent discussing ethics related to science and engineering, which is a fourth pitfall. He stated that engineering projects in particular seem to value lower cost and shorter times to completion and profits, with little consideration of ethics. In teaching engineering to students, the goal is not simply to create “mini-engineers,” he said, but rather to help them better understand science and engineering practices.
The fifth pitfall is that curricula may raise awareness and encourage student agency but discourage “making waves.” Rodriguez suggested that developers and others consider how to respond if students want to act on a science or engineering topic they learn about. For example, students may seek to assess food deserts in their neighborhood or start a petition to call for city officials to address the problem. Teachers may be concerned that such an action would create trouble for themselves or their school. “What are you going to do when they may want to do something that may be problematic? Are you going to tell them . . . it was just to do here, but do not go out there and apply it in your community?” asked Rodriguez.
A sixth pitfall to avoid is creating the impression that failure is not an option. Rodriguez noted that the concept of failure in science and engineering receives too little attention, especially at the elementary level. Generating excitement for the endeavor to create engagement is important, but failure can lead to negative emotions among younger students. However, failure and the reactions to it can be anticipated and addressed. Emotional responses can vary by the individual backgrounds of students, but improving emotional literacy and pedagogy to manage varying reactions can help prepare teachers to manage these reactions, explained Rodriguez.
Finally, Rodriguez cautioned participants to avoid the seventh pitfall, what he termed the “savior fetish.” He explained this as the tendency to portray members of the predominant culture in the role of “savior,” “rescuer,” and “fixer” of the “other” (e.g., the culturally different, poor) who are always in distress or needing help. To counter this tendency, Rodriguez suggested that class discussions could consider how members of communities are addressing problems themselves
or could be a source of ideas from which members of a predominant culture could learn.
In addition to avoiding these pitfalls, Rodriguez noted that future iterations of the NGSS need to more effectively integrate dimensions of engagement, equity, diversity, and social justice (Rodriguez, 2015). His 2015 critique of the NGSS emphasized the point that diversity needs to be more purposefully embedded throughout the standards. In his view, this integration is important for more systematically addressing issues of equity and diversity. Such issues should not be relegated to an appendix, he said. Integrating how to address issues of culture, diversity, and equity at the “same level of importance as talking about engineering and scientific practices will send a different kind of message,” noted Rodriguez. This would help change everyday teaching practices.
Making Diversity Visible in Instructional Materials for Science Education
Lizette Burks shared how her personal experiences as a K–12 student learning English, a classroom teacher, and a science education leader have shaped her efforts to promote equitable science learning. Her own education lacked opportunities to make sense of science at school, she said. Burks credits her success to her mother, who was a teacher who could help her discuss these phenomena at home in the context of her culture and community. Her own experiences as a classroom teacher shaped her views as well, as she witnessed how both students of color and white students would discuss their ideas about science with her. These experiences illustrated that the sense-making occurred primarily in these “sideline chats” with students but were not brought forth in the instructional materials. When she moved on to review curricula as a science leader for her district, she noted that issues of culture and language continued to be addressed on the sidelines. For example, curriculum materials put issues of diversity in text boxes or extra links on Websites.
Instructional materials need to move from placing culture and diversity on the sidelines to making them an integral part of the materials, emphasized Burks. To do this, instructional materials should make diversity visible, she said. Many concrete ideas for doing this are found in Chapter 11 of the Framework (National Research Council, 2012), including relating youth discourses to scientific discourses, building on prior interest, and tapping cultural funds of knowledge. These can help students with different experiences see themselves in the materials and be invited to make sense of what they are learning as part of the curriculum, she said.
Panelists discussed systemic barriers to equity and prospects for enacting the vision of the NGSS. Parsons indicated that little is likely to change if there is not broader acceptance of approaches to providing equity rather than equality. This requires focusing on outcomes (e.g., all children are able to achieve at their highest potential) more than process (e.g., what teachers are doing). Making diversity visible in instructional materials is one approach to addressing the structural and institutional barriers, suggested Burks. This visibility makes it easier for teachers to discuss the topic with colleagues and to see what children bring from their culture to the sense-making process as assets. Rodriguez emphasized that the lack of science education in the schools is his primary concern. In California, he has observed less science instruction, even in middle school, because of an emphasis on reading and mathematics and the standardized testing in those subjects.
Panelists also discussed the role of language in science education. Burks noted that approaches to teaching English learners have advanced since she was a student, but instructional materials still focus more on behavioral interventions than on sense-making. Parsons explained that science has its own language, which can be a barrier for many students who do not hear technical language at home or in other settings. “It is important to connect the scientific and technical language to the language of their everyday lives, the language that they use in their experiences,” she said. According to Parsons, this connection is important for equity because it helps to make the curriculum accessible to diverse groups of students. Rodriguez added teachers are increasingly challenged by meeting the needs of students who speak a variety of languages. However, teachers can learn to create a welcoming and inclusive environment. The Framework offers strategies for and concrete examples of language integration in science education, added Burks.
There are examples where progress has been made to make science education more equitable. The work of Brian Brown has emphasized connecting student experiences and backgrounds to scientific phenomena, suggested Parsons. This has helped students see the relevance of science, according to Parsons. Increasing the flexibility in how students can represent their science knowledge has been successful in increasing student engagement and learning, according to Rodriguez’s research. William Penuel of the University of Colorado noted that his curriculum development team administers surveys to students to better connect to their interests and experiences.
Supporting teachers in their efforts to address diversity and equity may be needed in the short term, as structural and societal changes occur over the lon-
ger term. Teachers may be reticent to address these topics, and leadership and policy support from the principal or from the school district can be helpful, stated Rodriguez. Teachers themselves experience inequalities and inequities based on the resources and composition of the school population, explained Parsons. She encourages teachers to begin with self-examination to understand their own world views, perspectives, and biases. From there, she encourages teachers to build relationships with students and to encourage students to bring in resources from their lives and communities (e.g., materials, stories, people who help as teachers). These connections allow teachers to work more effectively within the constraints that exist.
In Burks’ experience, most professional development around issues of diversity and equity has been ineffective and impractical. Experiences where participants engaged in structured conversations around their own differences, even if uncomfortable, can be helpful. However, often professional development experiences are so brief that it is difficult to have a meaningful dialogue. One set of resources, STEM Teaching Tools,1 is effective at making diversity more visible and helping people to talk about the issue, stated Burks.
INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS AND PROFESSIONAL LEARNING
Professional learning is a key link between the development of instructional materials and their successful implementation in the classroom. Barbara Nagle of Lawrence Hall of Science described her work to develop and evaluate a model of professional learning. Jennifer Horton of Western Placer Unified School District provided her perspective on professional learning as a teacher, instructional coach, and co-developer of curriculum.
Nagle discussed teacher professional learning based on her experiences with the Science Education for Public Understanding Program (SEPUP) and collaborative work with the American Museum of Natural History. Nagle said she has observed the ability of instructional materials to transform classrooms for teachers and students as a researcher and designer of professional learning, and as a teacher using them herself. Evidence also indicates that materials can catalyze teachers’ long-term professional learning beyond the instructional materials, she said.
1 See http://stemteachingtools.org for more information [December 2017].
Nagle is currently collaborating with multiple partners2 to develop and evaluate a model NGSS science unit for middle schoolers and a professional development model. Participating teachers engage in 12 days of professional development focused on learning about the materials but also about the three-dimensional (3D) science learning that characterizes the NGSS. Teachers both experience the materials as learners and reflect on them as teachers.
The instructional materials have been designed to catalyze teacher learning because they provide models for different ways that teachers can interact with students, students can interact with materials, and students can interact with each other. The materials also provide specific support to teachers about how to implement the materials, as well as how to approach assessment and track student learning over time. Teachers are encouraged to continuously reflect on their practices.
Balancing the need to support teachers in their day-to-day teaching to build confidence with the need to help them to think more broadly about teaching science consistent with the NGSS is a challenge, noted Nagle. When they develop materials, she and her colleagues must also work to balance the varied needs of teachers and students. For example, teachers are diverse in their years of experience either with science or with teaching. To address this, Nagle and her colleagues are working to develop different “paths” through the materials based on the level of teacher expertise. They are also working to determine how to address this teacher diversity while considering the needs that stem from the diversity of the communities in which they work.
The limited time that teachers have for professional development is a challenge. Her team seeks to find more efficient ways to support teachers as they move toward more 3D science teaching. Feedback from teachers indicates that they would prefer even more professional development to support them in making this significant shift in their teaching.
As a teacher, Jennifer Horton said she has observed the need to help her students be more engaged and do more thinking, rather than simply memorizing, regurgitating, and forgetting facts. What changed her teaching was participating in professional development that placed her in the role of the student. She and her colleagues were presented with a phenomenon and asked to generate their own questions about it. The facilitators also asked the teacher-learners challenging questions and presented them with tasks to do. These experiences showed Horton
2 The American Museum of Natural History, the University of Connecticut, and WestEd.
how much she still had to learn about science. This uncertainty provoked her and the other teachers in her group to discuss their ideas, to use provided information, to think deeply, and ultimately to answer the question they were exploring. Creating a feeling of safety during the professional learning experience was also important in Horton’s view. In this atmosphere, she felt that she could question her own previous understanding and abilities and the science. She realized that she needed to re-examine her scientific understandings and to make sense of the science that she planned to teach.
In her role as an instructional coach, she has also found that placing teachers in the role of student, though time-consuming, is the most effective way to engage teachers and prepare them to use the practices in their own classrooms. Just as with students, Horton has found that teachers learn best by doing.
Horton also discussed insights about how instructional materials can support teachers. Engaging phenomena is critical, she explained, but they will differ across classrooms. Therefore, providing teachers with options or types of phenomena can facilitate adapting to different groups and interests. Providing questions that challenge both teachers and students is also important. She explained that materials with embedded strategies to support teachers who have limited time, differing levels of experience, and classroom contexts are helpful. For example, many teachers do not really know how to facilitate a classroom that is student centered and doing so requires a significant shift in practice, she explained. Horton has found that providing many different strategies for teachers to choose from is especially helpful as teachers make this shift. Strategies that can be used across curricular areas are particularly useful for elementary teachers. One idea is teaching language arts through the lens of science, using informational texts and having students discuss and write about the world around them, she suggested. In a follow-up comment, Walls added that science is often a subject that gets students excited about learning other subjects.
Teachers also need to feel supported as they attempt new ways of teaching, Horton explained. This can mean creating a sense of safety the first time that teachers attempt a new approach. Developers could also communicate the ways in which NGSS science teaching looks different to administrators, so that they can understand and better support their teachers.
Teachers experience a tension between the practical challenges of learning to implement a day-to-day curriculum with fidelity (e.g., managing the classroom) and gaining a deeper understanding of why the curriculum is designed as it is, stated panel moderator Cynthia Passmore of the University of California, Davis. Nagle responded that the implementation process can take multiple years. Teachers may start with what is written, but ultimately fidelity “means to understand the vision and the principles so that you make decisions that do not undermine your own goals,” she said. Then, after the first year, teachers can use the embedded assessment system to gather evidence to adjust. Although materials may never be perfect, “we just have to start with what we have, figure out what works and what does not work and keep going forward,” stated Horton. Providing teachers with opportunities to interact with other teachers around multiple samples of student work and interpret it together can be useful to teachers as they begin to understand a curriculum, she added.
INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS AND BUILDING SCHOOL AND DISTRICT CAPACITY
Building capacity can mean “building the knowledge and skills in educators to better teach kids,” according to Jill Cowart of the Louisiana Department of Education. Yet, more broadly, it also means that knowledge and expertise come from many different sources. Therefore, building capacity in the educational system means that educators are supported by infrastructures that connect people in the system to one another and to high-quality resources, explained William Penuel of the University of Colorado Boulder. Panel presentations and discussion examined examples of building capacity to support the implementation and use of instructional materials for science at the school, district, and state levels.
Professional Development for Administrators
Katherine McNeill of Boston College offered insights from her experiences as a curriculum developer working with school administrators to support science instruction consistent with the NGSS. Her efforts arose to address a problem—when teachers implemented NGSS science instruction, their principals would not permit it to continue. After a new evaluation system was implemented in Massachusetts, principals “were coming in looking for reading and writing. They were looking for quiet kids sitting very attentively. Science was messy. Science was loud. This did not match what they thought,” McNeill explained. Her partner,
Pam Pelletier, the science director of Boston Public Schools, requested professional development targeted to educational leaders, assistant principals, and principals to address the problem. Together, McNeill and Pelletier received funding for the Instructional Leadership for Science Practices (ILSP) project.
This experience highlighted the importance of attending to more than just teachers and students, stated McNeill. Developers need to provide guidance or other materials to support administrators, she said, considering their specific backgrounds and needs. Many have no experience as science teachers, and they have competing demands of their time. Further, when principals observe science teaching, they attend to issues of general pedagogy (e.g., how many students are talking?) rather than the science, in McNeill’s experience.
Despite their limited time and experience with science, principals are very receptive to learning more about science practices, McNeill said. A useful “on-ramp” has been offering principals support that they value to improve their ability to use Massachusetts’ evaluation system. McNeill recommended that developers consider the needs of stakeholders and how to connect to them.
She also suggested that developers consider ways to simplify professional development for administrators. Principals do not need the same level of understanding as science teachers, stated McNeill. ILSP focuses on helping administrators understand science practices. Further, based on administrator feedback, they have condensed the eight science practices outlined in the NGSS into three types—investigating practices, sense-making practices, and critiquing practices. In McNeill’s view, simplifying information for different audiences makes the goal of helping administrators understand NGSS science more achievable. Understanding the formats of information that will appeal to various audiences is important, too. ILSP includes both paper and electronic tools for administrators; however, she has found that principals have widely used small, colored laminated materials that could be posted in their teachers’ classrooms.
Building School District Capacity through Researcher-Practitioner Partnership
Douglas Watkins discussed how partnering with teachers as co-developers of curriculum can help build school district capacity to implement NGSS science. As the science curriculum specialist for Denver Public Schools, Watkins has served as a partner with researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder developing a 9th-grade biology curriculum and assessments. He and other teachers have become leaders in the district through the curriculum writing process. This process
of both writing and using NGSS-consistent curricula has deepened understanding and reinforced the underlying philosophies behind the NGSS.
Building capacity in his district also comes in the form of teachers taking on leadership positions. Watkins has encouraged teachers involved in co-developing science curricula to apply for positions as regional team specialists with the Denver Public Schools. Specialists who are deeply knowledgeable about NGSS are then able to provide professional development to others.
Watkins’ partnership with the research team has increased his own capacity to serve as a leader for NGSS science. As his understanding of the Framework and NGSS grows, his ability to provide effective professional development to more teachers has also grown. This has been important to their efforts to take science teaching consistent with the NGSS to scale. In addition, Watkins has been able to build capacity within individual schools through his one-on-one work with teachers. “This work and partnership just for me personally is extremely motivating and provides a positive feedback loop. The more I do it, the more I want to do it. The more I do it, the better I am at it. That really is a strong lever for building capacity through the district,” he said. He plans to use his expertise to benefit the upcoming science curriculum adoption process for middle school.
William Penuel described his view of the partnership as the leader of the research team.3 Curriculum, professional development, and coaching must all work together, he said. This means that design and implementation need to be considered together, so that each element can help to calibrate the others. If the curriculum is immutable, then determining how it can be implemented successfully becomes the problem of another part of the system, he explained. In partnership, members of the team devoted to development and practice can help ensure that the curriculum is able to be implemented faithfully in a way that benefits students. Paradoxically, learning how to adapt to local variations in partnership with practitioners can actually make a curriculum more useful and adoptable in a wider variety of settings, explained Penuel.
According to Penuel, working in partnerships to co-develop curriculum conveys four key benefits. First, such partnerships can result in useable materials that reflect the best expertise from subject matter experts. Second, having scientists who study learning working together with teachers and education leaders results in a cadre of teacher-leaders who are deeply knowledgeable about the
3 Their partnership has also benefited from the expertise of Brian Reiser and his colleagues, as well as partners from other states, said Penuel.
vision of the Framework and how it can be embodied in instructional materials. Third, partnership work helps to build the supporting infrastructure for the use of materials, calibrated to the localized assessment and evaluation systems by which teachers are judged. Fourth, student learning improves, as demonstrated through randomized control trial research Penuel has conducted. His research compared four conditions: (1) teachers who implemented a high-quality curriculum with fidelity, (2) teachers who designed their own curriculum unit using a structured process, (3) teachers who were provided with a high-quality unit but were also taught the design process, and (4) a control group. The third group of teachers, the productive adaptation group, consistently had better teaching and better student outcomes. Penuel suggested that curricula could be designed for productive adaptation.
Building Capacity at the District Level
Lesa Rohrer, the secondary science curriculum coordinator for Oklahoma City Public Schools, provided an example of how to build the capacity to transform science teaching across an urban school district. Although Oklahoma did not adopt the NGSS, it did adopt a similar set of standards and held a curriculum adoption in 2015. Rohrer brought together science department chairs and other teachers to use the EQuIP rubric (see Chapter 3) to evaluate curricula. “We knew that if we adopted the traditional program that we saw in our classrooms that were at least a decade old, because it had been 10 years since we had adopted, then we would have the same type of instruction occurring in our classrooms for the next decade,” she said. Ultimately, they adopted several curricula—Full Option Science System4 created by Lawrence Hall of Science, IQWST5 for middle school science, BSCS6 for high school biology, and Lab-Aids7 for high school chemistry.
After adoption, Rohrer and her team focused on how to support and sustain implementation of these curricula. First, they adapted their assessments to identify evidence of student learning consistent with their goals. This process involved drawing upon resources and expertise from universities and other states, and then working with a group of teachers in the district to further develop an assessment rubric that would work for their district. This group of teachers was able to con-
4 See https://www.fossweb.com/what-is-foss [December 2017].
5 See http://www.activatelearning.com/iqwst [December 2017].
6 See https://bscs.org/bscs-5e-instructional-model [December 2017].
7 See https://lab-aids.com [December 2017].
duct an in-depth exploration of the Framework and develop a better understanding of what they needed to look for in evaluating student work.
Changing the conversations about assessment in teachers’ professional learning communities was another mechanism for building capacity for change across the district, explained Rohrer. They wanted to move from a model that focused on identifying needs for remediation, a product of No Child Left Behind, to one that focused on ways to differentiate instruction. This meant that assessment needed to focus on how to make student thinking visible to inform instruction. Rohrer and her team have examined student work to inform their ongoing revisions of the assessments they created. Rohrer has also sought to share what her district has developed and learned about the process with others in her state.
Going forward, Rohrer would like to further develop the assessments so that they can better serve a diagnostic function. Such tools, she said, could be useful in identifying gaps in instruction as well as ways that the base curriculum could be adapted to better meet the needs of students.
Building Capacity at the State Level
Jill Cowart offered her views on how to build system capacity statewide that supports the implementation of new educational standards. She focused on her state’s work to bolster instruction in English Language Arts and mathematics consistent with Common Core State Standards (CCSS). According to a 2016 study conducted by the RAND Corporation, teachers in Louisiana demonstrated a more accurate understanding of approaches and practices consistent with CCSS than teachers in any other surveyed state. Cowart attributes this understanding to the emphasis they have placed on incentivizing local adoption of high-quality curricula.
Louisiana has also seen gains in student learning. According to Cowart, Louisiana’s 4th-grade students have had the highest growth in the nation on the NAEP reading and are tied for highest growth on NAEP mathematics. In addition, Louisiana is among the top five states in narrowing achievement gaps in 4th grade among various groups in reading and mathematics. They are also one of 12 states that require that all students take the ACT exam, and their students have increased their scores on this test by a higher percentage than any other state. Their students have also made gains in Advanced Placement exam scores and graduation rates. “We feel, and the data are showing us, that what we are doing is working, which again is why we want to do similar work in science,” stated Cowart.
The first step in the process of making systemwide change was finding quality curricula. However, they also focused on building teacher-leaders, ultimately two per school, beginning with training district administrators. Cowart explained that they did not begin working with principals right away. Only after 2 years of work were principals ready to work with the state because their teachers and district leaders were talking with them, she stated. Principal training involves providing a foundation of understanding about the standards, ways to support teacher planning, and what to look for when they are observing teachers. In 2017, Cowart and her team have trained more than 600 principals on supporting CCSS-aligned mathematics instruction.
The next step in building capacity is developing content expertise among teachers through credentialing programs and other training. Cowart also explained that they are working to align “every piece of the system—the curriculum, the professional development, the assessments—so that teachers, principals, districts are all understanding the same priorities.”
Cowart challenged participants to consider the case of EngageNY (see Chapter 4) and what it suggests for providing high-quality instructional materials. First, she noted that the curriculum is not research based but rather published quickly based on research-based standards. In addition, teachers who add to EngageNY through their own Internet searches are able to identify high-quality materials this way. Third, the curriculum was created by a small group determined to complete it, rather than by a large consortium. Fourth, the curriculum was not perfect, nor was its implementation. Despite this, it has been highly effective in boosting math learning in an overwhelming majority of districts in Louisiana, stated Cowart. “If we are waiting for the perfect product, we will still be sitting here in 5 years having the same conversation,” she underscored.
Panelists and participants considered the role of capacity-building for achieving the goal of equitable science learning for all students. Rohrer’s approach in Oklahoma City Public Schools has been to attend to several elements. Ensuring that a high-quality curriculum is in place everywhere is of prime importance. However, building capacity to support teachers in using the curricula means building in layers of teacher support, including specific curriculum training and support from consultants who were deeply familiar with the Framework. Rohrer also worked with university experts to help elementary teachers with the science con-
tent and progressions. Providing experiences that addressed equity at the teacher level was a need as well. Using federal funding provided to schools with high numbers of students receiving free and/or reduced school lunch, Rohrer has been able to provide professional development and build a teacher-leader group. This group is important for both sustainability of efforts and for credibility. “When I have my Teacher of the Year saying ‘I am Teacher of the Year because I taught science. That is why my math and English scores went up,’ then she has more credibility than I do,” explained Rohrer.
Watkins and Penuel both stressed the importance of building equity by connecting science to students’ lives. The co-design process helped Watkins understand the way that scientific phenomena that are meaningful and relevant to students can help to motivate the greatest numbers of students. In addition, Penuel indicated that they are reaching out to groups in the community to provide students with opportunities to investigate and address real problems.
McNeill indicated that more affluent schools tend to be less concerned about English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics learning among their students, to talk more about science, and to experience more demand from parents for science education. Her work with principals has helped her see that making more connections between science, ELA, and mathematics learning might provide an entry point to increasing the amount of science that occurs in elementary schools. She also suggested that developers could create short introductory videos for schools to send to parents to help increase understanding and buy-in from this important stakeholder group.
Panelists also discussed how the approaches to building capacity at various levels could be implemented on a wider scale. Penuel stressed the need for investment in partnerships to expand to more locations. “We have to have infrastructure to get infrastructure,” he said. Expanding this model to more locations will help illuminate how it successfully generalizes. He noted, however, that curricula will always need to adapt to fit local teacher evaluation systems. McNeill and Rohrer both indicated that many resources already exist. What is needed are better means for sharing these existing resources and for sharing lessons learned. Cowart noted that Louisiana has been thinking about scale from the outset, and its model for approaching systemic change is applicable elsewhere based on state decisions. She noted that taking efforts to scale in rural areas, and other areas with personnel who have to fill multiple roles, means that states need to consider how to ease their burden. “It does not mean we are taking their choice away. It means we are providing them the information. We are giving them the tools. We are doing a
lot of the work for them and they choose to trust us or not,” she stated. Helping people solve their problems builds trust, added Cowart.
In a comment from the audience, a 6th-grade teacher offered her perspective on building capacity based on her experiences learning about building a coherent storyline in understanding science. “The work that I did then changed the way I look at science,” she said. “I told my friends about it. And then I found out more. And it has grown every day this summer that I have worked with 40 elementary teachers from K through 8. The human capacity is there when they are challenged and when they are supported and when they see the vision. . . . You give them the tools and then you have them try it in the classroom and you continue to support them as they enact. We will have more change because we reached to the human capacity. That is what will keep this going.”