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Washington adopts new science standards

The state of Washington last week adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of new standards developed by 26 states and the National Research Council to better prepare students for college and careers.

Washington is the eighth state to adopt the standards, which will not go into full implementation until 2017. The standards describe what students at each grade level should know about the four domains of science: physical science; life science; earth and space science; and engineering, technology and science application.

The development of the standards began in 2010. The standards were released in the spring of this year, and are available to view at nextgenscience.org.

As an example, the “Engineering Design” standard requires students to be able to define a simple design problem, come up with multiple plans to solve the problem and carry out a plan by the time they are fifth graders.

Middle school students are expected to be able to conduct the same process on more complicated designs, accounting for more variables, including impacts on people and the location of the design in the environment. Middle school students must also understand how to model designs in a way to find the optimal design.

By high school, students need to be able to look at real-world problems and use computer modeling to arrive at potential solutions.

The standards build on each other, meaning that material students learn in one year impacts what they learn the next year. The standards also include an emphasis on engineering and technology for all grade levels in order to give students a solid foundation in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.

The goal of the standards, like the Common Core State Standards, is to make sure that all students across multiple states have the same level of knowledge. The Next Generation Science Standards are also aligned with Common Core, which was also adopted by Washington state.

“Teachers, parents and the general public should not find these new standards threatening,” said 2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau of Zillah. “They are not a radical change, but rather are a carefully judged update and revision of what Washington students have been learning for years. Washington state has had standards-based science education for more than a decade.”

Sunnyside High School science teachers Joyce Stark and Teri Alvarez-Ziegler have also indicated that their science curriculum is already aligned with the new standards, and that Sunnyside students will be ready to meet the requirements when they go live.

“Our standards are already close to the new standards,” said Stark. “We will be integrating any changes. We are ready.”

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