Kansas Science Heading Down the Teach-To-The-Test Road?
At their July Board meeting, the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 for Kansas to apply to be one of four-to-six "lead states" developing the Next Generation National Science Standards. Currently, two disciplines—language arts and mathematics—have a national Common Core curriculum with a national test being developed. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have bought into this national curriculum that was mandated if states wanted to apply for federal competitive grant money.
Since No Child Left Behind testing narrowed schools’ efforts to reading and math, adding science as a Common Core subject is seen as a way to force science back into elementary and secondary schoolrooms. Despite disclaimers that the national science standards might be elective, advocates clearly intend to make it equal to reading and math and will move rapidly to develop science assessments based on the final standards.
The Kansas Board approved applying to be a lead state in order to "have a seat at the table." However, one week after the State Board vote, the National Research Council (NRC) handed over its "framework" to "Achieve," one of two education consortia driving the Common Core effort and using $150 million to develop the national tests for reading and math. In announcing its handover, the NRC committee revealed that states having a seat at the table may have little effect on content.
In an interview with Stephen L. Pruitt (VP for content, research, and development at Achieve), Education Week indicates that Achieve has "...already assembled a team of 36 writers with expertise across science and education to craft the standards." Their interview with Pruitt further states that while states will have a chance to "weigh in" on the standards at various points, Achieve "will rely on a group of outside experts to help make a final decision."
Whether Kansas gets a chance to "have a seat at the table" or not sounds fairly irrelevant when the final decision on content rests with a team of 36-experts and writers. This is not too different from the prior Common Core process where all states had to accept the same uniform standards in math and reading. While Kansas could add our unique "additional 15 percent," the national assessment only covers the national core. And it is the assessment that drives teachers to teach-to-the-test.
For some Kansans, using a national science curriculum circumvents any in-state haggling over creation-evolution issues. But the bottom line is that Kansas is handing over its curricular jurisdiction to national educationists who are gutting science content dramatically. And that is a topic for another column.
The paradox missed by the national press is that in June, just one month earlier, a different blue-ribbon committee of the National Academies of Science concluded that the last decade of test-based accountability systems have had "little to no positive effect overall on learning" and leads to "gaming the system" (teaching-to-the-test).
Some will plead that Kansas can always pull out of the national science curriculum development, or decide not to adopt the final product. But, it is hard to turn around after you have headed down a one-way street.
Meanwhile, with science soon to join our high stakes assessments, expect to see school administrators dismiss more art, music, and other teachers across the non-tested disciplines.