New science test must be part of California’s school accountability system

CREDIT: CAROLYN JONESFirst grade class at Longwood Elementary school in Hayward. CREDIT: CAROLYN JONESFirst grade class at Longwood Elementary school in Hayward. Jill Grace and Vincent StewartMay 7, 2018Does an egg gain or lose weight before it hatches?
Jill GraceAsk this question to a group of elementary students, or a room of adults for that matter, and you are likely to get a rich debate over the answer, as well as the use of various scientific principles and concepts to make the case.
Science, when done well, has the ability to draw out our innate curiosity, to be relevant, rigorous and promote the critical thinking skills that serve children across subject areas and throughout their lives.
Science is a front-burner issue for California students, especially for those who are marginalized and disadvantaged. To ensure they receive the education they deserve and need, it is essential for the State Board of Education to add a placeholder for the California Science Test (CAST) to the California School Dashboard.
Although the science test is still being field tested, and no test results will be available for accountability purposes for a couple more years, the State Board can still make its commitment to science clear to all stakeholders by stating that the science test results, when ready, will be part of the dashboard and listing it there now as one of the state performance indicators. This is what the state has done with other indicators that are taking time to come online, such as the Chronic Absenteeism and College and Career indicators.
Vincent W StewartThis action will encourage districts and schools to invest in the implementation of the new science standards and prepare themselves and their students for the day when the science indicator is ready to be more directly and specifically included on the dashboard. In the meantime, the state will have time to understand trends in the data on where students are and can begin to track their progress over time. This sets the entire system, and students, up for success.
The reality is that students who are historically underrepresented in science fields — children of color and girls — can benefit the most from learning science as called for by our new state standards for science, the California Next Generation Science Standards. The future of California depends on the education of today’s youth and with 69 percent of California’s child population being kids of color, it is crucial for the students and the state that they are provided with a high-quality science education.
Implementing new standards well takes time and planning, which is why Sacramento policymakers must make it clear, sooner rather than later, that science assessment scores will be included in the California School Dashboard.
The dashboard is a tool that provides information on the performance of local educational agencies, schools and student groups on a set of state and local measures to assist stakeholders in identifying strengths, challenges and areas in need of improvement. It is the foundation of school accountability and signifies to all stakeholders what the state considers important for ensuring student progress and improvement. Science must be part of that directive.
RelatedState updates school data: here’s how the school dashboard worksCalifornia adopted the Next Generation Science Standards in 2013, adopted a new science framework in 2016 and, this year, is field testing the new California Science Test. Yet implementation of the new science standards is uneven and lags in many districts, schools and grades. In March, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) reported that only 60 percent of districts surveyed viewed science as a priority and an overwhelming number of districts say teachers are not well-prepared to teach to the current state standards.
In May 2016, the State Board of Education indicated that the science test would ultimately be a part of the California School Dashboard through a unanimous vote of the board.
We have reached the point where the state needs now to clearly signal via a placeholder on the Dashboard that science is, in fact, a priority.
On May 9th, more than 315 organizations from across California, representing science educators, business leaders, higher education, equity and community groups, are asking the State Board to do just that. Districts are engaged in local planning and budgeting through their Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and, by design, are taking their cues from the dashboard. Given the impact effective science standards implementation has on student outcomes, both in science and other subjects, the positive equity implications and the time it takes to implement the standards well, it is critical that the State Board adopt a California Science Test placeholder by this fall for inclusion in the 2018 Dashboard, which will be released at the end of the year.
By making it clear that science isn’t just a “nice to have,” but a critical part of every child’s education, California will be fostering inquiry and curiosity, the foundation for so many of the benefits that science instruction has to offer.
And if you are still wondering about that earlier question regarding the egg: the egg actually loses weight before it hatches. Now the inquiry at hand is, why…?
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Jill Grace is president of the California Science Teachers Association. Vincent Stewart is executive director of the California STEM Network.
The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the authors. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.
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