The Science Content Standards for California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve represents the content of science education and includes the essential skills and knowledge students will need to be scientifically literate citizens in the twenty-first century. By adopting these standards, the State Board of Education affirms its commitment to provide a world-class science education for all California students. These standards reflect the diligent work and commitment of the Commission for the Establishment of Academic Content and Performance Standards (Academic Standards Commission) and the commission's Science Committee to define the common academic content of science education at every grade level.
Glenn T. Seaborg, one of the great scientific minds of this time and of all times, chaired the Academic Standards Commission's Science Committee. In "A Letter to a Young Scientist," Dr. Seaborg said, "Science is an organized body of knowledge and a method of proceeding to an extension of this knowledge by hypothesis and experiment."(1) The National Science Education Standards reflects this view of science and the balance between the "body of knowledge" and the "method" of scientific inquiry.(2) The standards provide the opportunity to make substantial and significant improvements in California's education system.
The standards include grade-level specific content for kindergarten through grade eight. A significant feature is the focus on earth sciences in the sixth grade, life sciences in the seventh grade, and physical sciences in the eighth grade. The standards for grades nine through twelve are divided into four content strands: physics, chemistry, biology/life sciences, and earth sciences. An Investigation and Experimentation strand describes a progressive set of expectations for each grade from kindergarten through grade eight, and one set of Investigation and Experimentation standards is given for grades nine through twelve.
The elementary and middle school standards provide the foundational skills and knowledge for students to learn core concepts, principles, and theories of science at the high school level. The standards are organized in sets under broad concepts. This organization is intended to help the reader move between topics and follow them as the content systematically increases in depth, breadth, and complexity through the grade levels.
The Science Content Standards serves as the basis of statewide student assessments, the science curriculum framework, and the evaluation of instructional materials. The Science Framework for California Public Schools aligns with the standards. The framework suggests ways in which to use the standards and make connections within and across grades; it also provides guidance for instructional planning. However, the standards do not prescribe the methods of instruction. Students should have the opportunity to learn science by receiving direct instruction, by reading textbooks and supplemental materials, by solving standards-based problems, and by doing laboratory investigations and experiments. The Investigation and Experimentation standards should be integral to, and directly and specifically support, the teaching of the content strands and disciplines.
Development of the Standards
The California State Board of Education and the Academic Standards Commission reviewed the National Science Education Standards, the Benchmarks for Science Literacy,(3) and science standards and frameworks from numerous local school districts in California, from around the country, and from other nations with successful science education programs. In addition, hundreds of pages of written recommendations and hundreds of hours of testimony were considered. The Academic Standards Commission hosted nine community meetings, and the State Board of Education held five public hearings throughout California. Families, educators, and business and community leaders participated and helped define key issues. Expert reviewers around the nation submitted formal comments on the drafts and also participated in invited public testimony.
Their ideas contributed substantively to the final standards adopted by the State Board of Education.
Highlights of the Standards
These science standards challenge not only California's students but also the entire K-12 education system. The elementary school standards call for early introduction of science facts and terms and ask the multiple-subject teacher to find time in the school day for science education. Quality textbooks and reading materials in science are now available to support students in mastering these standards as they develop their reading skills and vocabulary. The Investigation and Experimentation standards allow students to make a concrete association between science and the study of nature as well as provide them with many opportunities to take measurements and use their basic mathematical skills.
The middle school science standards, with emphasis on the disciplines at each grade level, raise the bar substantially for students. Many teachers, schools, and districts have restructured their curriculum to meet these standards. The Science Content Standards make the middle school curriculum more rigorous in response to a national call for excellence and prepare students for in-depth study of science at the high school level.
The high school science standards require more than two years of science courses for students to achieve the breadth and depth described. Schools and districts have strengthened the science curriculum, providing students the maximum opportunity to learn the standards while encouraging students to study further in science. In grades nine through twelve, standards that all students are expected to achieve in their science courses are unmarked; standards that all students should have the opportunity to learn in those courses are marked with an asterisk(*). Those opportunities should be offered at every high school.
The Science Content Standards reflects the desired content of science curriculum in California public schools. This content should be taught so that students have the opportunity to build connections that link science to technology and societal impacts. Science, technology, and societal issues are strongly connected to community health, population, natural resources, environmental quality, natural and human-induced hazards, and other global challenges. The standards should be viewed as the foundation for understanding these issues.
Time and considerable resources continue to be needed to implement the Science Content Standards fully. But the goal remains clear, and these standards are the foundation for increasing the scientific literacy of all students.
1 Gifted Young in Science: Potential Through Performance. Edited by Paul Brandwein and others. Arlington, Va.: National Science Teachers Association, 1989.
2 National Academy of Sciences, National Science Education Standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1995.
3 American Association for the Advancement of Science staff, Benchmarks for Science Literacy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.