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Utah Education Officials Considering New Science Education Standards

Photo of lab. / Davizro

The Utah State Board of Education has released a draft of new science education standards for elementary and high school students. KUER’s Rocio Hernandez spoke with Ricky Scott, the board’s science specialist, who explained that for some of these standards, it will be their first update in 17 years.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Rocio Hernandez: What the current sciences standards in Utah classroom, and how do our standards compare to other standards?

Ricky Scott: As far as the K-5 [standards] currently, and as far as the high school ones go, Utah standards back then were based off of some research that was available back in the early 90s regarding inquiry models and kids being active in their science learning. There was a push back then for kids to be hands on. So compared to other states, we were very kind of one-of-a-kind when it comes to the content that's being taught in each of these content areas.

When it comes to our new standards adopted in 2015 for grades 6, 7 and 8, those were based off of the Next Generation Science Standards and made some adjustments to kind of make them fit them the needs of Utah, as far as Utah specific phenomenon. So those are much more common to what other states are using at least 30 plus states. So they're very similar in that way, but the old ones are very much Utah only. No one else and has standards like we did back then are we do currently.

RH: What grades would these proposed changes affect?

RS: These ones right now are grades kindergarten through fifth grade and elementary and then the high school courses: biology, chemistry, earth science and physics.

RH: How long has it been since the standards for these grade levels have been updated?

RS: For grades K-2, it's been almost nine years, For grades 3 through 5, it's been almost 17 years. For biology chemistry and physics, it's been 17 years and for earth science, it's been about seven years. Standards are adjusted generally for two big reasons. One is because the content area — the information that we've learned in that content area has changed. Another big thing could be because the research around best practice in that area has changed. But as you can see, the way I described that before there's a bit of a delay. Usually, standards in the state of Utah last 10 plus years before they're adjusted again.

RH: So how would these proposed standards translate into the classroom?

RS: When we look at what happened with grades six, seven and eight in the past, the hope is to kind of move away from a world in which kids are being told, here are the facts of science and here's what you need to know to a world in which students are being presented with a phenomenon [and] asked to try to understand it using really important concepts, these core ideas and science. So that's kind of the big shift where students are kind of taking a bigger part in understanding the process of science as a way of knowing as opposed to a bunch of content that they should know that we call science, which is what most of us probably receive when we were in elementary and high school level learning.

RH: Does this continue what you were saying, that we want science to be more hands on?

RS: That's the hope. We want kids to be more active not only in the doing of science. Even before this, we had times when science was hands-on, where it was like a lab ... and everyone should get the same result to now more of a way in which we want kids to try to find different find their own way of coming to an explanation regarding a certain specific phenomenon like what's the changes in Great Salt Lake or looking at rock patterns in a specific area of the state or whatever.

RH: The public comment period for the draft of the standards ends in April. how soon can we see the standards being used in the classroom?

RS: So we're hoping that there'll be standards adopted by early to mid-late summertime this year that they'll be done. I guess I should mention implementation right so following that the next step is when are these used in classrooms. Teachers can choose to use them immediately if they wanted to, but really the full implementation that we're hoping for statewide to give us kind of a year to start preparing teachers and I think the hope is that by fall 2020 these will be used in classrooms in the state of Utah.

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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