Fifth and eighth-graders will be the first Harford County Public Schools students exposed to the Next Generation Science Standards adopted by the state of Maryland, in the form of new standardized science assessment tests given next month.
The Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, are designed to promote "the application of rigorous content, reflecting how science and engineering are practiced in the real world," Howard Eakes, assistant supervisor of science, told members of the Board of Education Monday evening.
Eakes, along with Andy Renzulli, supervisor of science, and Susan Brown, executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, gave the school board an informal presentation about the new science standards, which the Maryland State Department of Education adopted in the spring of 2013.
Maryland is one of 19 states that have adopted the NGSS "as written" by the nonprofit National Research Council, which worked with national education organizations and science education advocacy groups to develop the document Framework for K-12 Science Education. The Framework was released in the summer of 2011.
"Another 11 [states] have adopted some derivation of the NGSS," Renzulli said.
"Between 50 and 60 percent of students in our country now live in states that have new science standards that have been influenced by the NGSS Framework," he continued.
Harford County fifth- and eighth-graders will sit for the new Maryland Integrated Science Assessment this spring, according to Renzulli.
This year will be a "field test year" for the elementary and middle school science test takers, so they will not get a score, Phillip Snyder, supervisor of accountability, said. He noted, in response to a questions from board member Laura Runyeon, that a date for when those test scores will count has not been set yet.
The exams for elementary, middle and high schoolers will be refined through the field tests before the scores count for students' passage to the next level, according to school officials.
"We are encouraging our students to do the absolute best [this year]," Snyder said.
The science tests will be given to fifth- and eighth-graders during the last two weeks of March, and the countywide administration of the state's PARCC exams will be administered starting April 19, Snyder noted.
The new test, also known as MISA, will replace the Maryland School Assessment science exam, used to assess what students have learned about science in elementary and middle school, that HCPS has used since 2003.
The test given to fifth-graders will incorporate third-grade level science, in addition to the fourth- and fifth-grade science that shows up on the former MSA exam, according to Renzulli.
High school students will have their own integrated science assessment, which will replace the High School Assessment biology exam, starting next year.
"The biology assessment requirement will become a thing of the past upon conclusion of this school year," Renzulli said.
He said the new integrated test will be a high school graduation requirement "currently slated for the 2019-20 school year," so the scores earned next year the year after will not count toward graduation.
It will also assess, based on a student's three years of science credits, proficiency in Earth and space science, physics and chemistry, as well as biology, according to Renzulli.
High school students will still need at least three science credits to graduate, he said.
The Next Generation Science Standards do not just affect standardized testing. They will change how science is taught day to day, and they are designed to incorporate more real-world examples of science, as well as engineering, into the classroom.
"As a result of these shifts, we will see classroom cultures which emphasize more sense making, less memorizing, more student-directed experiences and fewer teacher-directed experiences," Eakes said.
He used, as an example, the standard replica of a human skeleton found in a typical life science classroom.
"Historically. it would have been used as a tool to memorize the locations of bones," Eakes said. "In light of the MGSS, it will be utilized as a model for students to explain or predict how the arrangements of bones and muscles around the hip enable particular movements, such as a roundhouse kick in karate, or how the arrangement of bones in the foot and ankle enable a dancer to dance on point."
He said students "will be expected to develop and use models in order to explain or predict natural phenomena" and "make connections between multiple systems and content rather than learning facts in isolation."
Eakes and Renzulli fielded multiple questions from board members about how the new tests will be administered, how schools can help parents acclimate to the new science standards, how teachers will be trained to implement the standards and the potential costs associated with those standards.
Renzulli said a lack of funds for regular updates of classroom technology, which school officials have brought up for the past few years during budget season, "is absolutely an issue for us."
He said additional funds will be needed for new textbooks that fit the curriculum and professional development for teachers, as well as up-to-date technology.
Amanda Dorsey, the board's student representative, suggested incorporating review periods before standardized tests are administered, as she recalled the stress of having to remember concepts going back to sixth grade as she and her classmates rushed to prepare for their eighth-grade science assessments.
"I think that this will be a very positive change for the science curriculum, and I'm looking forward to how the students respond to it," Dorsey, a senior at Edgewood High School, said.
Board President Nancy Reynolds thanked the presenters for their hard work in preparing teachers, administrators and HCPS central office leaders to implement the new standards, even with reduced funding for professional development.
"This is a sea shift as far as teaching and writing the curriculum," she said.