New state science standards will challenge students

By Dick Mason, The Observer March 31, 2014 10:54 am

La Grande High School science teacher Pat Des Jardin offers a thoughtful and intriguing reaction to the news that the State Board of Education has adopted more challenging science standards.

“I’m both excited and terrified,” Des Jardin said.

The new benchmarks, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, were adopted earlier this month. The new standards take full effect in about three years and will apply to students in grade school through high school. 

“The new content standards are deeper and richer. That is cool, it is good stuff. But I worry that not all students will be able to meet the standards,” Des Jardin said. “The new content standards will ask a lot from kids.”

He noted that the new standards have literacy and technical writing benchmarks “that we have not seen before.”

The literacy standard requires that students be able to gain knowledge from a science text, Des Jardin said. One writing component requires that students be able to express themselves in an expository style. Students will be required to use this skill to “critically evaluate scientific principles,” Des Jardin said.

LHS science teacher Wade Wright agrees that the new standards will raise the achievement bar for students.

“The rigor for students will be increased,” Wright said. “The new curriculum will have greater scope and depth.”

Wright said that one of the features of the new standards is a change in how students demonstrate what they have learned. For example, on a test, high school students will be asked to use a model to illustrate how photosynthesis transforms light energy into stored chemical energy. 

Students may also be asked to use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms, according to published Next Generation Science standards.

Wright said it has not been determined if any major changes in the science curriculum will have to be made in LHS’s science curriculum by administrators to help students meet the new standards. 

“We are in the early stages of exploring this,” Wright said. 

He said there is a possibility that no significant changes will be necessary. 

“In many ways our curriculum is already aligned with the new standards,” Wright said.

Oregon last adopted a new set of science standards in 2009. The adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards coincides with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a set of math and English education goals Oregon and most other states will implement in the 2014-15 school year. The Common Core is intended to emphasize critical thinking and has been characterized as more rigorous than current Oregon standards by the state Education Department.

Bend Bulletin reporter Tyler Leeds contributed to this report.