Pass / Fail

So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

K-12 science education standards get revamp, include evolution, climate change

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49774 full

After nearly two years of study and discussion, California and 25 other states released new K-12 science standards Wednesday, emphasizing critical thinking and including guidelines for teaching climate change and evolution.

The standards move away from memorization-based science learning and toward more hands-on, deeper thinking.

"It's almost a new frontier," said Anthony Quan, a consultant on science, technology, engineering and mathematics for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. "Now it's time to reexamine the way we think about science."

Phil Lafontaine, California's lead on the science standards, said he hopes the new standards will improve student readiness for science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs, which are among the fastest growing in California and across the nation. 

"It's very important for our students to really understand science not only for their work outlook, but also for their own personal gain," said Lafontaine, who directs the professional learning services division of the California Department of Education.

The new standards are the first attempt at a national science framework in more than a decade. It's unclear how many states will adopt them — they're not mandatory. Some experts predict 80 to 90 percent of the country will eventually sign on. California took a lead in their development.

They require teachers to spend more time teaching science than they currently do, Lafontaine said. That means teachers will have to find creative ways to double up on subjects, like teaching both science and English in the same lesson.

"There's definitely going to be a large need for training," said Anne Yi, a science teacher at Southeast Middle School  in South Gate. "They do seem very complicated."

Yi said she supports the new standards, but a lot of teachers aren't ready for the change.

2011 study found that 40 percent of elementary school teachers in California teach 60 minutes or fewer of science education per week.

Lafontaine said the state will make sure teachers are trained on teaching the new standards and have adequate instructional materials.

"What California is going to try and do is really think about this systematically," he said.

The standards will come before the California board of education in November for official approval, rejection or amendments. 

That's on the later side. About 10 states will have made decisions on adopting the standards by then, Lafontaine said.

The state will hold public hearings throughout the state in the spring. Check back with Pass/Fail for updates.

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