The state Public Education Department announced late Wednesday that it is dropping a plan to create its own science teaching standards and instead will use the Next Generation Science Standards that nearly 20 other states have adopted so far.
Critics of the state agency’s proposed overhaul of the science standards, drafted using Next Generation as a blueprint but omitting several key concepts, had asked officials to consider adopting those guidelines as they were written by scientists and educators from both the National Research Council and the National Science Teachers Association. Many see the Next Generation model as the most comprehensive and interactive way to teach science in public schools.
“It’s time to reform,” Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski said shortly after the department announced the news.
But, Ruszkowski said, his department will include about a half-dozen additional New Mexico-specific science standards.
The decision late Wednesday, just ahead of a legislative committee hearing Thursday morning in which lawmakers were set to question Ruszkowski on changes to science teaching standards in public schools, could allay what had become near-constant criticism of the agency’s initial proposal. As soon as it was released last month, the draft caused an outcry for eliminating concepts such as evolution, the age of Earth and human causes of climate change.
During a public hearing earlier this month, hundreds of critics showed up to protest the standards and ask the department to adopt, instead, the Next Generation Science Standards.
Many who spoke at the hearing also criticized Ruszkowski for not attending it. But he said Wednesday night that he had heard them.
“One of the hallmarks of what we are trying to do at PED is to step back and reflect and to listen very deeply to all New Mexicans across the state and to move forward,” he said in an interview. “And if there is any doubt that both myself and my team at PED are constantly listening and constantly dialoging with teachers and parents and families and taxpayers, hopefully any of those doubts will be dispelled.”
Reaction to the news was mixed Wednesday night, with some scientists and educators expressing hopeful optimism and others withholding support until more details were revealed.
Jenny Parks, CEO of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, which had become one of the staunchest critics of the state’s proposed science standards, said in an email Wednesday night that the foundation “commends the PED and Secretary Ruszkowski for adopting the Next Generation Science Standards in their entirety.”
The department has taken “a great step forward,” she said, “moving towards a world class science education for all public school children.”
Glenn Branch, deputy director of the California-based nonprofit National Center for Science Education, was more cautious. One of his concerns about New Mexico’s proposed standards as they were initially written is that they included 34 new measures — “just too many … which would spread a teacher thin,” he said.
He was happy to hear that the department had decreased that number considerably.
But, Branch said, “Since I have not seen those six [new] standards yet, I don’t know if they are problematic or not.”
Santa Fe school board member Steven Carrillo, an outspoken critic of the state’s overhauled science standards, continued to express skepticism.
“The secretary’s desire to include New Mexico connections [in the standards] leaves the door wide open for them to manipulate the Next Generation standards,” he said.
Ruszkowski said the newly proposed standards must be reviewed and then published, probably by November, and then they will become “the law of the land,” going into effect in July — though they probably won’t be fully implemented until 2020, he said.
As with math and reading, he said, science proficiency will be measured by “high-quality assessments,” and those results will be included in the state’s A-F school grading system.
“What gets measured gets done,” he said. “It’s going to be critical for us to have STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] readiness as part of our school grades, and it’s critical to have a world-class assessment like the PARCC.”
Ruszkowski was referring to the the state's standardized math and language arts exams for students in grades 3-11 that are developed and administered by a coalition of states called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
Citing recent statewide science test scores that showed just 31.7 percent of Santa Fe students are proficient in science, Ruszowski said, “We need as a community in Santa Fe … to be just as outraged as student outcomes plummeting as we are about the standards themselves.”
Asked about the cost of implementing the new standards, including the purchase of learning materials and professional development for teachers, he said the education department will request funding for the initiative from the state Legislature next year.
Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or email@example.com.
Amendment: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction: The original version of this story reported that Secretary of Education Christopher Ruszkowski was referring to the state's science proficiency rate of 40 percent, when he was actually referring to Santa Fe Public Schools' science proficiency rate of 31.7 percent.