What Students of Science Are to Learn and Understand in High School Science- Livonia Public Schools

The National Science EdMiscellaneous science artworkucation Standards (NSES) (NRC, 1996), the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993), Science Framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2006), and Michigan’s High School Science Content Expectations (HSSCE, 2006) provide a description of the essential science content that all students should have the opportunity to learn, understand, and be able to do.

In the first half of the 20th century, the emphasis was on the acquisition of skills, information, and the ability to compute with little attention to transfer or problem solving. The NSES, Benchmarks and Michigan’s High School Science Content Expectations outline science content which stresses the development of understanding the science content through inquiry. This inquiry provides the context that includes the students being engaged in many of the same activities and thinking processes as scientists who are seeking to expand human knowledge of the natural world (NRC, 1999). In the NSES the outcomes of science learning contained in the content standards are summarized as the development of the scientifically literate student (NRC, 1996, page 22) and in Michigan’s High School Science Content Expectations (Inquiry, Scientific Reflection and Social Implications, pages 1-8):

Scientific Literacy

Scientific Literacy means that a person can read and write about science, in addition to asking, finding, or determining answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena, both orally and in writing.   Scientific literacy entails being able to read with understanding articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions. Scientific literacy implies that a person can identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed. A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.

Scientific Inquiry

The National Science Education Standards (NSES p. 23) and Michigan’s High School Science Content Expectations (HSSCE pgs. 6-7) generally defines scientific inquiry as "the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work. Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world." The Science as Inquiry Standard in NSES and HSSCE includes the abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry and understanding about scientific inquiry.

Scientific inquiry reflects how scientists come to understand the natural world, and it is at the heart of how students learn. From a very early age, children interact with their environment, ask questions, and seek ways to answer those questions. Understanding science concepts is significantly enhanced when ideas are anchored to inquiry experiences.

Scientific inquiry is a powerful way of understanding science concepts. Students learn how to ask questions and use evidence to answer them. In the process of learning the strategies of scientific inquiry, students learn to conduct an investigation and collect evidence from a variety of sources, develop an explanation from the data, and communicate and defend their conclusions.

The Livonia Public Schools encourages that all K–16 teachers (not just high school science teachers) embrace scientific inquiry and is committed to helping educators make it the centerpiece of the science classroom. The use of scientific inquiry will help ensure that students develop a deep understanding of science and scientific inquiry.

Assessment as a Component Integral to Learning Science

Science assessments are necessary tools for managing and evaluating efforts to ensure all students receive the science education necessary to prepare them for participation in our nation's decision-making processes and lifelong learning of science in a technology-rich workplace.

Assessment feedback reflects the learning setting and should be used to adjust course content, teaching techniques, or learning strategies to improve student science learning. Moreover, the assessment data should be used to identify students who need extra help and/or learning accommodations, and to revisit and redesign assessment tools to better reflect the learning goals and instructional setting.

When the outcomes of learning are specified, as they are in the NSES and Michigan’s High School Science Content Expectations, assessment can and should be used as feedback to improve the learning/teaching process as well as to determine if students are achieving the desired outcomes. A research review by Black and William (1998) indicates that formative assessment used frequently as feedback to individual students is one of the most effective strategies available to teachers in meeting high standards of student learning. To be effective, formative classroom assessment should be used to:

  • diagnose students’ pre-existing knowledge;
  • assess deep understanding, not superficial knowledge or isolated facts;
  • develop students’ self-assessment skills; and
  • support the perspective that ability is not fixed but can be developed and increased.

Summative assessments (large-scale assessment) are a significant part of the educational scene. Such tests should (1) be aligned with the content in the curriculum the students are experiencing, (2) emphasize deep understanding, (3) provide results that can be used as feedback by classroom teachers, and (4) assess the conditions or opportunity to learn as well as student achievement. And in all cases, assessments should be designed to enhance and inform the learning process.

The data and knowledge gained from quality assessment can indicate how well students are meeting science standards and expectations only if the assessment is appropriately aligned with the science curriculum and instruction. Science curriculum goals, instructional topics and strategies, and assessment topics and techniques should be in alignment if tests are to yield useful data. Additionally, it is important that the processes used to collect and interpret evaluation data be consistent with the purpose of the assessment.

With respect to science assessment at the local, state, and national levels, the Livonia Public Schools advocates:

  1. High expectations for science achievement for all.
  2. Quality assessments be designed that reflect excellence in science curriculum and instruction.
  3. Appropriate measures be taken to ensure all learners receive the necessary academic support and resources to succeed academically and test fairly in science.
  4. Science curriculum, instruction, and assessments be aligned so that formative and summative assessment data are meaningful and useful to those working to increase student science achievement at all levels.
  5. Multiple forms of science assessment be used to measure student achievement and understanding (e.g. student-directed experimental designs, authentic/performance assessment, laboratory practicals, real world problem-based learning scenarios, and writing challenges.
  6. Selection of science assessment type and/or form of assessment implementation to be adjusted on an individual basis to provide necessary accommodations for students with special needs.

Science learning does not occur in a vacuum but within a rich context of a greater education community. Thus, educating a child requires the efforts of an entire system created for that purpose. Teachers, administrators, support staff, policy makers, parents, the community, and the students themselves, all comprise this system. They all contribute to the child's learning and must measure the success by the science learned by every child and by how that knowledge will contribute to the success of children beyond school.


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