Science Teachers Group Looks to Boost Student Test Scores With New Teaching Style
In light of students’ science scores recently released in the Nation’s Report Card, the National Science Teachers Association continues its work advocating for states to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards.
Last month, the Nation’s Report Card, also called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, was released. It not only showed that fourth graders and eighth graders made modest gains in science since 2009 but also that the gap separating Caucasian and minority students has narrowed. Those are both wins for the National Science Teachers Association.
“The fact that we have improvement is encouraging,” said NSTA Executive Director David Evans. “You certainly wouldn’t want to see it go the other way. The fact that some of the achievement gap seems to be closing is really good news.”
Other findings weren’t so encouraging. According to the report card, only 22 percent of 12th-grade students performed at or above proficient levels—which means that high school seniors’ science learning hasn’t gone anywhere in the six years since the assessment was last given.
“It’s discouraging,” Evans said. “It’s hard to say anything else besides that. When you look at the total scores, the percentage of students who are below proficient level or basic levels, you know, that’s really discouraging. It really means we have a long way to go.”
To make those strides, Evans said NSTA will continue to advocate that states adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, which were published back in 2013 with the help of NSTA. NGSS are a marked change from “the old stand in the front of the classroom and lecture” teaching philosophy, and instead focus on “three-dimensional teaching,” according to Evans. With NGSS, teachers would not only educate their students on the key ideas in science, but they’ll also teach how those key ideas cut across multiple disciplines of science and engineering and allow students to “practice” as a scientist or engineer.
“It’s a very, very dramatic change in the way we’re teaching science,” Evans said. “We are asking kids to do the work that scientists do.”
Evans notes that NSTA played a big role in this whole shift in teaching. The association was involved in developing the framework, reviewing, and advocating for states to adopt NGSS. In addition, NSTA has published dozens of books and included countless articles in its peer-reviewed journals to help teachers understand and implement three-dimensional teaching. And the association’s role is even further heightened since its members are on the front lines of implementing these changes.
Evans also notes that this three-dimensional teaching philosophy has taken hold at NSTA too. “We have really restructured ourselves to provide a much more blended learning experience for our members,” he said.
There is a lot more work to do to ensure American students are proficient in science, even in regards to redesigning student assessments to better capture whether or not students are grasping and understanding science.
“We see NSTA as playing a very important role in this,” Evans said. “The challenges are significant, but we do represent, in some way or another, most of the science-teaching community, and we’re extremely committed as an association in helping them to do that.”