Idaho Adopts Revised Standards for the First Time Since 2001
IEA REPORTER Q & A
After three years of discussion, debate, and political manuevering in the legislature, Idaho now has a long overdue set of revised science standards. After the House Education Committee voted once again to remove one standard relating to climate change as well as supporting content from all of the standards, the Senate Education Committee voted to accept the revised standards in their entirety. With concurrence not required in this case, the action taken by the Senate Education Committee officially put the new standards on the books in Idaho.
A team of highly-regarded science educators drafted the standards and re-wrote them multiple times at the request of the legislature. IEA members Melyssa Ferro (Caldwell), Chris Taylor (Boise), Jamie Esler (Coeur d’Alene), and Tanya Elmer (West Ada) sat on the science standards committee and were instrumental in the adoption of the new standards. We asked them about the experience for this IEA REPORTER Q & A.
Q-Why was this work important for Idaho students and teachers?
A-(Esler) These new standards reflect the current state of scientific knowledge and skills that students absolutely need to become scientifically literate citizens, and hopefully, pursue a STEM career of their own. These standards ensure that teachers get to work with their students through active inquiry, scientific modeling, and engineering solutions for modern day problems. This is a wonderful upgrade for Idaho’s classrooms!
(Ferro) We needed to make the transition from teaching science as a body of knowledge to teaching science as an active method of understanding the world around us. Bringing inquiry and critical thinking into our science classrooms meant taking a step back from teaching science as a noun and creating it as a verb instead.
Q-How did you become involved with the science standards committee?
A-(Ferro) I was first asked to serve on the science standards committee by the state science coordinator, Scott Smith. He was looking for award winning science teachers from various parts of the state of Idaho and given my recent nomination as a PAEMST (Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching) winner and state TOY (Teacher of the Year) winner, he was eager to have me join his committee.
(Taylor) I am the Science Supervisor for the Boise School district and four years ago our district started changing our standards to look more like the current Idaho Science Standards. I have spoken about science standards both regionally and nationally at various conferences, so I was excited to be part of the process. Teaching for 18 years in all grades from 2nd to 9th helped give me a good idea of the vertical alignment of the science standards.
Q-Describe the time, effort, and collaboration that went into drafting the standards.
A-(Taylor) After working with an amazing team the last three years it is so rewarding to have the standards passed as written. The team worked so hard writing and rewriting standards, putting on open public forums for discussion, intimately talking to legislators about the standards, and working with teachers and students to draft the best possible science standards for Idaho students.
(Ferro) Writing this set of science standards was not an easy or quick process. We were committed to creating a set of standards that were right for Idaho classrooms, so we spent hours examining each main idea through a variety of lenses, both content and grade level, until we could come to consensus. Once we crafted version 1.0 of the standards, we thought that we were finished but it took two more years of meetings and re-wording and re-crafting to bring them in line with something that could gain political approval. We walked a very frustrating tightrope between ensuring that the standards were accurate, factual, and represented current scientific understandings of our world, while at the same time reflecting the political climate of our state and the need to ensure that the standards were Idaho-centric and open to local control during implementation. Version 3.0 was about as far as we could bend that tightrope line.
Q-What were your primary objectives in drafting the new standards?
A-(Taylor) We wanted our new standards to be inquiry based where students are asking questions, collecting and analyzing data, creating models, drawing conclusions, and communicating their results. These are all skills that “real” scientists and engineers do every day. Our old science standards were content-based where these standards are performance- based.
(Esler) I wanted to do everything I possibly could with my knowledge and expertise in the area to get them passed. I don’t think I could have slept at night if I didn’t do that. The stakes were simply too high, and their (the legislature’s) lack of proper judgement in addressing the standards was simply too alarming.
Q-Were you surprised by the pushback from the legislature? Frustrated by the process?
A-(Taylor) I personally spent many hours talking to both House Ed and Senate Ed legislators to try to understand what they were asking for, but I felt a few of them made this a political issue instead of what is best for our students. The committee consisted of 18 professionals from Idaho who were our top science teachers, district administrators, industry leaders, scientists, university faculty and parents. This was the best possible mix of adults to create quality standards that affect every student in Idaho.
(Ferro) It was difficult to feel like we were trying to hit a moving target and not really know what the legislators were looking for in our final product. Members of the House and Senate Education Committees were invited to every one of our meetings over the three-year period, but the only time we received any feedback from them was when the standards were in front of the committees during the session. Public comment was strongly in favor of our work, so it was hard to understand why we faced such strong pushback from a few members of each committee.
Q-Why was it critical that supporting content and standards related to climate change by included?
A-(Esler) I saw it as critical for three main reasons:
1.) The science of climate change is as accepted in the international scientific community as any other topic in the standards. Removing those standards, while keeping all the rest, would have sent a very poor signal to students. Instead, we needed both the standards AND supporting content in order for our students to learn that scientific facts result from scientific inquiry, exploration, and peer review. Scientific facts and scientific exploration: they are two sides of the same coin. Without one, you cannot have the other.
2.) Our state’s economy and environment are both exceptionally vulnerable to the impacts of climate change that are currently happening and projected to continue to happen throughout the rest of the 21st century. As Idahoans, it is our duty to provide our future citizenry with the facts and knowledge they need to make informed decisions about natural resource use, land management, and urban development.
3.) We live in a globalized world, so understanding and preparing for the effects of climate change in Idaho is the first step. We need these standards to help our students understand that this is a global issue as well, and that responses to warming in Earth’s systems in one place can cause feedback mechanisms to trigger responses in other places. A global understanding of climate change will be necessary for our students to be productive, empowered, and compassionate members of society throughout their adult lives.
(Taylor) Climate Change is happening – Most of the legislators I communicated with agreed with this statement. The issue is what is causing climate change. We incorporated both natural and human impacts to climate change and by the nature of the standards being performance-based, students would research and collect evidence to make their own claim from all the data. The supporting content was crucial to include because this helps teachers at all levels understand the performance tasks that students are asked to complete and be assessed on.
Q-What was your reaction when you heard the Senate Education Committee had voted to adopt the standards in their entirety?
A-(Taylor) Ecstatic! To prepare our students who will be entering universities and the job force worldwide with rigorous, performance-based standards will allow them to be more science literate and lead to greater success.
(Ferro) Relief. The standards are a crucial first step in updating Idaho science classrooms. Now that they are in place, we can move forward with updating our curricula, our assessments, and our professional development. We still have a lot of work to do, but it is great to feel like we are moving forward instead of backwards in this process!
(Esler) The most solid fist-pump I’ve given in a really long time.