PA Teachers Air Ideas, Issues With State Science Education Standards, Unchanged Since 2002

Feb 20, 2020

State officials are gathering teacher input as they prepare to update the Commonwealth’s science education standards, and teachers had a lot to stay at a Thursday stakeholder session, held at the Monroeville campus of the Community College of Allegheny County. 

The standards provide the basis for curriculum development and instruction. Last year, the state Board of Education ordered the department to update the guidelines, which haven’t been reviewed since 2002, making them as old as today’s high school seniors.

One educator in attendance, Cherie Conrad, teaches environmental science at Western Beaver High School. Conrad said the new standards should consider modern challenges.

“With teaching environmental science, I always look at, how do we make competent citizens? How can they best advocate for themselves? If you don’t have clean water, good food, and clean air to breathe, how do you do any of the other things we do as citizens?” said Conrad.

John Simpson, a biology teacher at Franklin Regional Middle School in Murrysville, agrees that the standards need to be more relevant.

“There’s a large focus on agriculture, and that is not applicable to a lot of the students’ everyday [lives,]” he said. “I would like to see a focus on renewable energy, more of a focus on ecology, and I would like to see more of a focus on human body and health.”

Simpson also said the current standards lack clarity, which is challenging when it comes to preparing his students for the science portion of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, a standardized test that assesses fourth and eighth-graders.

“It feels like we’re trying to hit a moving target,” he said.  

Cindy Dutt, a physics and chemistry teacher at Trafford Middle School, said the current science standards are too broad, which makes it difficult to teach cohesively.

“I don’t feel like I can go deep enough to really anchor [the standards] into the experiential brains of the kids,” said Dutt.

The Monroeville meeting is one of a dozen stakeholder sessions the department of education is holding throughout the state. There will be two online meetings for educators who can’t attend in person.

“We don’t know what your outcomes will be,” said Bobbi Newman, the project director at the American Institutes of Research, a nonprofit the state hired to help with teacher engagement as it drafts new standards.

“But what that outcome is, is informed by the stakeholder feedback sessions,” she said. “This whole process…is to really respect the voices of educators.”

The department said it plans to present a final report to the state board of education in September.