In a unanimous vote, the Arkansas State Board of Education adopted new K-12 Science Standards for Grade K-4 and 5-8 on June 11, 2015. The standards, based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), mark the state’s attempts to bring science education into the 21st century with a considerably greater emphasis on real-world applications, inquiry-based learning and modern-day issues.
At the time of adoption, Arkansas joined fourteen other states signing on to the new standards– Arkansas, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.
The new Arkansas Science Standards wrap in new clarification statements and assessment boundaries specific to the state, and overview the content to provide extra teaching resources for each grade. As a Lead State Partner, Arkansas was one of the 26 states that helped develop NGSS, so it is no surprise the vote to adopt passed unanimously.
Implementation of the new standards into the Arkansas Science Curriculum is already in progress as classroom implementation goes into effect. The state plans for classrooms to implement K-4 standards in the 2016-17 school year, while 5-8 standards will roll out in 2017-18. Preparations to delineate high school standards that are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards are also underway. Right now, implementation of high school standards is slated for the 2018-2019 school year.
Michele Snyder, Science Curriculum and Instruction Advisor for the Arkansas Department of Education, says in an interview with the National Science Teachers Association that implementation is “an ever-growing strategic implementation plan that includes the essential aspects of curriculum and instruction, professional development, and assessment.” Moreover, successful implementation will happen over time, and in order to do that, “a solid communication plan must be ongoing to support these essential aspects.”
Synder continues that Arkansas educators are “focused on developing and delivering effective professional development to teachers, administrators and curriculum coordinators to support schools in the transition to a new set of science standards.” In addition to the changes in curriculum, which we will discuss below, local educators are also working to develop new assessments as well as resources and to support students and teachers in using these new standards.
The beginning of 2018 is when the Science Assessment Revision Plan goes into effect. This will help the state better align stale-level science tests to the new standards to ensure that students' learning outcomes reflect mastery of the 3-dimensions of NGSS called for by the new Arkansas science standards.
Nurturing students to mastery will require excellent science curriculum that is well aligned and brings NGSS performance expectations to the forefront. One of the ways that NGSS is different from previous science standards is the emphasis on students learning actual STEM skills, referred to as “Science & Engineering Practices” by the standards. This includes asking questions, developing and using models, arguing from evidence and other skills that scientists and engineers use every day.
The two other dimensions of the standards are Disciplinary Core Ideas (the main content) and Crosscutting Concepts (systems phenomena that unit different scientific realms, such as patterns, cause and effect and systems). In order to successfully teach the scientific concepts and principles wrapped into NGSS, teachers will have to challenge students to engage skills and develop content in a new ways.
Are you curious what next generation-aligned science curriculum for the state of Arkansas looks like? You can find out more by checking out our sample downloads. The curriculum and materials follow EQuIP science and PEEC guidelines for NGSS aligned science curriculum, and offer educators in Arkansas thorough, grade-specific curriculum based on NGSS.