Are the state’s new science standards good for education?


Rolling right along with its agenda to reform education in New York, the State Education Department (NYSED) has adopted new science learning standards. The purpose, according to the department, is to “improve student achievement … leading to career and college readiness.”

The standards are aligned with the grades 3 through 8 assessment tests and state Regents exams. All school districts must implement them during the 2017-18 school year.

The state’s Board of Regents approved the new standards, which are based on the National Research Council’s “A Framework for K-12 Science Education” and education reform non-profit, Achieve Inc.’s “Next Generation Science Standards,” after a yearlong process of analyzing the criteria for the new standards. “These standards give all our children the best possible opportunity to succeed,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said in a statement, “while also giving educators the flexibility to design classroom experiences that stimulate students’ interest and prepare them for the future.”

Glen Cove Superintendent of Schools Dr. Maria Rianna said that the district has been preparing for new science standards and is ready to implement them. “We’ve reviewed them with the staff,” Rianna said, “and they will be writing curriculum and matching the standards to support at the secondary and elementary level.”

The standards were developed over a five-year period. The Education Department used information from two public surveys. The first survey, in the summer of 2013, compared the then current science learning standards with the new learning standards created by Achieve Inc. called “Next Generation Science Standards” in order to formulate recommendations to the Board of Regents.

The second survey, which was open for public comment from Dec. 8, 2015, to Feb. 8, 2016, and included a draft copy of the new science standards. According to a press release from NYSED, data from these surveys were analyzed in a “quantitative and qualitative” way and the state education department used the feedback to update the standards.

But some local parents are not happy with the changes. Kimberly Velentzas, of Glen Cove, believes that the new science standards are just another facet of the same old problem. “The fact that New York state once again is rolling out new standards, this time in science, shows they haven’t been listening to parents or educators,” Velentzas said. “Have they learned nothing from the disastrous math standards students, teachers and families continue to suffer through? The only ones benefitting, as usual, are the testing and publishing companies, who continue to profit off our children.”

Velentzas, who has a son in fifth grade and a daughter who is a high school senior, works with other parent advocates in the community to help inform parents about education issues, such as testing requirements and reform, mostly through an organization called the New York State Alliance for Public Education. NYSAPE’s co-founder, Jeanette Deutterman, of North Merrick, is the leader of Long Island Opt-Out.

The opt-out movement on Long Island was a reaction to the federal government’s move to encourage states to adopt the Common Core educational standards through federal legislation like No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act.

In 2015 and 2016, more than 20 percent of students on Long Island refused to take the state assessment tests, which are based on the Common Core standards. The students — and their parents — were protesting the implementation of the standards.

The rollout of the state’s English and math standards in 2011 were fraught with problems, including confusion over the standards and flaws in the test booklets. Education advocates were not only upset with the rollout but also with the standards, which they claimed were not vetted by teachers. Over the succeeding years, the state took measures to fix the tests and adjust the standards.

Local residents questioned the sincerity of the state’s efforts. “It’s typical propaganda,” Velentzas said last year at an education forum in Locust Valley. “The shorter tests are shorter by a couple questions. We’re hearing horror stories of some kids sitting for six hours.”

Velentzas said that NYSAPE plans to hold another education forum this spring.

The process for the statewide implementation of the new science standards is detailed on the State Education Department’s website.

Glen Cove’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and technology, Dr. Michael Israel, said that the administration is ready. “We’re in the process of hiring a coordinator of science,” he said. “Currently the science teachers are supervised by their building administrators.”

Teachers in Glen Cove schools have been attending classes offered by BOCES that will help them implement the standards. “We have a good group of teachers who are prepared to help students move into the next generation of science standards,” Israel added.