Sunday, August 21, 2011


Like it or not, the fact is, California high school students, their teachers and their schools are all evaluated by standardized tests (CST's or STAR tests) that are based, in turn, on specific standards that have been adopted by the State Board of Education.

A complete list of all science standards is available HERE.

The fifty (that's right, count 'em, FIFTY) required state standards for Biology are shown on the right, along with the additional 20 optional standards.

(The optional standards have an asterisk (*) !)

A key goal of this course is to achieve coverage of all the standards, and in fact to exceed the requirements of the state. This is a very challenging goal. Furlough days and the logistic of state testing typically reduce the number of teaching days to prepare for the state tests to less than 150 days, or less than three days for the required standards. A tall order!

As you might imagine, the history of the development of these standards is not without controversy. The standards adopted by California in 1998 were widely considered to be a landmark in the so-called "standards-based reform" movement that began in 1983 with the famous "Nation At Risk' report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

One of the lead author of that report, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Glenn Seaborg, used his decades of government service as Chancellor of the University of California (1958-1961) and Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (1961-1971) to leverage the adoption process in favor of direct instruction and content-heavy standards which cover a wide range of material.

There can be no doubt that California has rigorous, world-class standards that have challenged school districts and teachers to raise the quality of instruction. Coupled with reforms mandated by the "No Child Left Behind" Act (2001), states have felt increasing pressure to demonstrate higher levels of achievement for all students, and the states in turn have ratcheted up the expectations for individual school districts.

The standards themselves have been criticized for being a 'mile wide' (expansive breadth) but an 'inch deep' (having very little room for in-depth exploration of individual topics, or the process of doing science). Further, unlike English Language Arts and Math, science is not tested in the lower levels, so the emphasis on standardized testing has led many school districts to reduce or eliminate science instruction in elementary classrooms.

Recent attempts to revisit the standards have died in Sacramento, however, and they are unlikely to change in the present political climate, where "standards-based reform" still enjoys widespread bipartisan support both at the state and federal levels. For the time being, standards are here to stay. So, like many school districts, FUSD worked hard to improve science instruction at all levels, in part by standardizing instruction. In 2001, the district released a course description that, while not mandating any instructional sequence, provided clear instructional goals and suggestions on how to sequence the curriculum. This document reflected the desire of the district's Science Office to preserve some of the depth-oriented, inquiry-based instruction that historically has been emphasized in science instruction, particularly at the lower levels. You can read the district's course description of Biology below:


For a variety of reasons, Fresno Unified dissolved their Science Office, and developed more of a "top-down", centralized-administration model for making decisions with respect to the curriculum, how it should be sequenced and (especially) how it should be assessed. Individuals within the district who sought to preserve inquiry-based instruction and other aspects of science courses not easily measured by standardized tests have gradually been marginalized under this new regime, which emphasizes preparing students for the CST's. The district has attempted to ensure coverage of all standards at every level by developing pacing guides that dictate the curricular sequence and amount of time devoted to particular standards. You can peruse the original 2006 Pacing Guide given to instructors here:


There are some merits to having a 'guide' to pacing. The district has also implemented a series of Benchmark tests through REA that are intended to assess different standards at key points in the first three quarters. The hope is that the data from these district-generated tests, coupled with the pacing guide, will allow instructors to identify areas that need reinforcement prior to the CST's. It should be noted that Bullard teachers were involved in developing the Pacing Guides for the various science courses, and that most teachers within the district have no objection to using data as part of a continual process of self-assessment. As with NCLB and the Standards themselves, however, there is considerable disenchantment within the teaching profession with the general tendency of districts to standardize instruction. Teachers fear that they will lose what is distinctive about their profession, and in the process be reduced to 'content delivery specialists' whose only task is to spoon-feed a 'one-size, fits-all' curriculum.

If that sounds depressing, don't worry about it.

I only share some of this history with students and parents so that they can have some context about the direction of instruction in this state. At the end of day, credentialed science teachers are really very well educated, and we need very little prompting from the state or our district to have high standards. I have personally taught all of the state's mandated standards-based courses (Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and Physics) multiple times. I know the standards, and while both teachers and students are under pressure to meet the standards, I fully intend to not only meet them, but exceed them.

We ARE Bullard Knights, and we will succeed.

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