The Alphabet Soup of Standards – What does this all mean?

The Alphabet Soup of Standards – What does this all mean?

This spring, the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) was released. This suite of science standards is being discussed, considered and adopted across the country. Some states will adopt NGSS in its entirety, others in parts and some not at all.

The Common Core for State Standards (CCSS) have been adopted and implemented around the nation. In the coming months and years, many states will be incorporating three sets of new standards for English language arts (ELA), math and science. These standards will have enormous implications for students, teachers and administrators.

At such an important time, with new standards being released and adopted (and not just in ELA, math and science), it is critical to review how they can support one another and how they can be blended to help students learn and teachers instruct.

Conversations are occurring where ELA teachers have expressed delight in having science instructors supporting the CCSS. The idea that writing and reading will be covered in science class is not a new one, but CCSS has given some pointed guidance as to how that can happen. For some science teachers, these simply reinforce what they were already doing in their classrooms.

However, CCSS also provides support for science instruction to receive support in ELA classrooms. Students can read nonfiction science articles or content in some other form. This strategy might allow teachers some latitude in the elementary grades to resume some science instruction in their classrooms at a time when so much focus is on ELA and math test scores. Now is the time when interdisciplinary instruction at the K-12 level should be the focus.

Having said all that, though, what are the implications for students? Why is this alphabet soup of standards good for them? First, this type of interdisciplinary approach reinforces concepts and skills. Rather than having content isolated in silos for each discipline, students are learning similar material and honing practices in more than one area, showing how the real world works in interdisciplinary ways. If students are able to see how material and skills cross over between disciplines, they will be able to perceive the world more holistically. Additionally, these standards will raise expectations for American students, which is always a good thing. Putting information into context for students will help them learn and assimilate that content. Connections help most people learn, and these standards, when used effectively, should help students.

What are the implications for educators? How will this affect current practice, if at all? Will these new standards alter the educational landscape? These standards will have a substantial effect on some instruction and less of an effect on others. The impact will depend on the individual teacher and her/his current practice. For some instructors, it will be a dramatic shift in preparation and thinking about teaching. Much as for students, this holistic approach will be new to teachers, but it will allow them some additional flexibility in their instruction. An interdisciplinary approach is the way to proceed in order to help students understand the material in a number of different contexts.

These standards also provide an ideal structure in which collaboration between educators can occur. The open exchange of ideas between teachers should be regular practice, but, too often, teachers are insular and simply close their doors, teaching in near total isolation. With CCSS and NGSS, the opportunities are numerous in which best practices between disciplines can be shared and teaching strategies can be developed that will support students in their learning under this new paradigm. These opportunities will only enhance the craft of teaching and should allow educators to support each other in the honing of their skills.

Change is difficult to accept. These standards do represent change, but that does not mean reinventing the wheel. Many instructional strategies have been successful and will continue to be even with the new standards. These shifts in ELA, math and science standards (to name a few) are positive for education. Their intent is to help students learn and achieve at higher levels than the previous expectations and standards. This will allow teachers to collaborate and instruct in a more holistic manner. The world is interdisciplinary; education should reflect the world in which students live. Therefore, the alphabet soup of these new standards is a good thing for learners and educators alike.

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