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Science standards in NY public schools to be revamped

Science standards in the state's public schools are

Science standards in the state's public schools are being revamped for the first time in 20 years as educators look to incorporate more experiments and research into the classroom. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

ALBANY — Science standards in New York’s public schools are being revamped for the first time in 20 years as educators look to incorporate more experiments and research into the classroom.

Educators, science experts and administrators statewide said the changes will make the curriculum more relevant, in the hope of encouraging students to pursue careers in science.

The standards set guidelines for classroom teachers — not a uniform, detailed curriculum. The model encourages students to pose their own inquiries, and investigate and draw conclusions, using evidence.

“Less sitting in rows and taking vocabulary tests,” said Joyce Thornton Barry, chairwoman of science, research and technology in the Plainview-Old Bethpage school district and a member of the NYS Science Consortium, one of several groups to give advice on the new standards. “More exploration and more inquiry.”

“Argumentation is a huge piece of this,” Barry added. “Students are going to have an opportunity to sit down and come up with their own ideas.”

Three groups, over more than five years, advised the state Education Department on the standards: the Statewide Leadership Team, the Science Education Steering Committee and the Science Education Consortium. Those consulting on the standards reviewed data from surveys of education stakeholders and nationally recognized science content standards, including the Next Generation Science Standards and National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education.

The new standards were approved Monday by the state Board of Regents P-12 Education Committee. The full board is scheduled to vote on the changes Tuesday. The standards, if approved, would take effect in July 2017.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said teachers should use the experiments to promote other subjects, such as English and math, calling that integration “extremely important.” She suggested, for example, that students write papers summarizing the findings of their experiments.

Mary Loesing, president of the Long Island STEM Education Leadership Association and STEM chairwoman of the Connetquot school district, said authors of the new standards aimed to promote science as an introduction to “potential career paths.” The efforts should lead students to “realize all the things that are out there that they can do with this knowledge,” she said.

“We hope that they learn it’s not a bad thing to be wrong,” Barry added. “As long as you think it through, you can learn.”

The Education Department also is reviewing changes to its standards for English Language Arts — guidelines that last were updated in 2010. The Regents will start reviewing proposed changes early next year, the agency said.

In addition, Elia’s office announced Monday that in 2017, computer-based testing in English and math will be available in the 2017-18 academic year to schools across the state for grades three through eight.

Districts still will be able to administer traditional paper exams.

The state is allowing a limited amount of computer-based testing in the current school year under a pilot program.

The P-12 Education Committee also approved changes to the state’s Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting System, limiting the number of categories to nine — reduced from 20 — in an effort to make it easier for school systems to report crimes.

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