The terms and circumstances of human existence can be expected to change radically during the next human life span. Science, mathematics, and technology will be at the center of that change—causing it, shaping it, responding to it. Therefore, they will be essential to the education of today's children for tomorrow's world.
What should the substance and character of such education be?
The purpose of this report is to propose an answer to that question.
That was how Science for All Americans (SFAA), the first Project 2061 publication, identified itself. Now, four years later, those words serve equally well to introduce Benchmarks for Science Literacy, a companion report. SFAA answers the question of what constitutes adult science literacy, recommending what all students should know and be able to do in science, mathematics, and technology by the time they graduate from high school. Benchmarks specifies how students should progress toward science literacy, recommending what they should know and be able to do by the time they reach certain grade levels. Together, the two publications can help guide reform in science, mathematics, and technology education.
Project 2061's benchmarks are statements of what all students should know or be able to do in science, mathematics, and technology by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12. The grade demarcations suggest reasonable checkpoints for estimating student progress toward the science literacy goals outlined in SFAA. It is important to view the benchmarks in the context of the following Project 2061 premises concerning curriculum reform:
Project 2061 promotes literacy in science, mathematics, and technology in order to help people live interesting, responsible, and productive lives. In a culture increasingly pervaded by science, mathematics, and technology, science literacy requires understandings and habits of mind that enable citizens to grasp what those enterprises are up to, to make some sense of how the natural and designed worlds work, to think critically and independently, to recognize and weigh alternative explanations of events and design trade-offs, and to deal sensibly with problems that involve evidence, numbers, patterns, logical arguments, and uncertainties.
Curriculum reform should be shaped by our vision of the lasting knowledge and skills we want students to acquire by the time they become adults. This ought to include both a common core of learning—the focus of Project 2061—and learning that addresses the particular needs and interests of individual students.
If we want students to learn science, mathematics, and technology well, we must radically reduce the sheer amount of material now being covered. The overstuffed curriculum places a premium on the ability to commit terms, algorithms, and generalizations to short-term memory and impedes the acquisition of understanding.
Goals should be stated so as to reveal the intended character and sophistication of learning to be sought. Although goals for knowing and doing can be described separately, they should be learned together in many different contexts so that they can be used together in life outside of school.
The common core of learning in science, mathematics, and technology should center on science literacy, not on an understanding of each of the separate disciplines. Moreover, the core studies should include connections among science, mathematics, and technology and between those areas and the arts and humanities and the vocational subjects.
Common goals do not require uniform curricula, teaching methods, and materials. Project 2061 is developing tools to enable teachers to design learning experiences for students that take into account state and district requirements, student backgrounds and interests, teacher preferences, and the local environment.
Reform must be comprehensive and long-term, if it is to be significant and lasting. It must center on all children, all grades, and all subjects. In addition, it must deal interactively with all aspects of the system—curriculum, teacher education, the organization of instruction, assessment, materials and technology, policy, and more. All of which takes time.
Benchmarks for Science Literacy is consistent with the above premises, but is sufficiently different in content, purpose, and style from other reform reports to require some clarification.
Benchmarks is a report from a cross-section of practicing educators. In 1989, six school-district teams were formed in different parts of the nation to rethink the K–12 curriculum and outline alternative ways of achieving the literacy goals of SFAA. Each team, backed by consultants and Project 2061 staff, was made up of 25 teachers and administrators and cut across grade levels and subjects. Working together over four summers and three academic years, the teams developed a common set of benchmarks. Drafts of Benchmarks were critiqued in detail by hundreds of elementary-, middle-, and high-school teachers, as well as by administrators, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, historians, and experts on learning and curriculum design. Chapter 13: The Origin of Benchmarks, describes the process in greater detail.
Benchmarks is different from a curriculum, a curriculum framework, a curriculum design, or a plan for a curriculum. It is a tool to be used by educators in designing a curriculum that makes sense to them and meets the standards for science literacy recommended in SFAA. Moreover, Benchmarks does not advocate any particular curriculum design. Far from pressing for one way of organizing instruction, Project 2061 pursues a reform strategy that will lead eventually to greater curriculum diversity than is common today.
Benchmarks is a compendium of specific science literacy goals that can be organized however one chooses. As in most reference works, chapter order is unrelated to the relative importance of the benchmarks. Chapter 1 does not set the tone for all those that follow, nor does Chapter 12 culminate all that came before. Indeed, Project 2061 expects that benchmarks from the latter will appear in combination with those from various other chapters in most curriculum units that address science literacy goals. A version of Benchmarks on a computer disk will enable users to assemble benchmarks from various chapters into cogent sets.
Benchmarks specifies thresholds rather than average or advanced performance. It describes levels of understanding and ability that all students are expected to reach on the way to becoming science-literate. A well-designed curriculum will provide students with the help and encouragement they need to meet those standards.
Benchmarks concentrates on the common core of learning that contributes to the science literacy of all students. It does not spell out all of the science, mathematics, and technology goals that belong in the K–12 curriculum. Most students have interests, abilities, and ambitions that extend beyond the core studies, and some have learning difficulties that must be taken into account.
Benchmarks avoids technical language used for its own sake. The number of technical terms that most adults must understand is relatively small. Accordingly, the 12th-grade benchmarks use only those technical terms that ought to be in the vocabulary of science-literate people. The language in the benchmarks for earlier grades is intended to signal the nature and sophistication of understandings to be sought. The Project 2061 analysis of these and other issues is summarized in Chapter 14: Issues and Language.
Benchmarks sheds only partial light on how to achieve the goals it recommends. Deliberately. The means for realizing the ends listed in Benchmarks will be discussed in other Project 2061 materials. Although Benchmarks includes some commentary on aspects of instruction, that commentary is to clarify the meaning and intent of the benchmarks, not to present a systematic and detailed program of instruction.
Benchmarks is informed by research. Research on students' understanding and learning bears significantly on the selection and grade placement of the benchmarks. Project 2061 surveyed the relevant research literature in the English language (and some in other languages) in search of solid findings on which to base benchmark decisions. The findings are discussed in Chapter 15: The Research Base.
Benchmarks is a developing product. It will undergo periodic updates as more research on learning becomes available and as users of Benchmarks report their experiences. One of the important responsibilities of the Project 2061 school-district sites is to suggest revisions of Benchmarks based on their analysis of ongoing research and user recommendations.
Benchmarks is but one of a family of tools being designed by Project 2061. To help educators bring about fundamental, lasting reform, Benchmarks and SFAA will be joined by other products. Designs for Science Literacy will describe Project 2061 models and curriculum blocks and will outline principles for configuring Project 2061 curricula. Resources for Science Literacy will be a continually updated database of outstanding learning and teaching materials suitable for curricula based on Project 2061 principles. Blueprints for Reform will recommend changes in the education system needed to make innovative K–12 curriculum reforms possible. A computerized curriculum-design and resource system is being developed to incorporate all of the Project 2061 products and link them interactively to each other and to educational resources. For more on this, see Chapter 16: Beyond Benchmarks.
Benchmarks is a companion for SFAA, not a substitute. SFAA presents a vision of science literacy goals for all students to reach by the time they finish the 12th grade, and Benchmarks maps out the territory that students will have to traverse to get there. SFAA emphasizes cogency and connectedness. Benchmarks emphasizes analysis of the SFAA story into components and their sequence. In grades 9–12, where building coherence and connections becomes the main task, no list of components would be adequate to represent science literacy. (Indeed, not all of the detailed ideas in SFAA are represented in Benchmarks.) At the 9–12 level, therefore, reference to SFAA is more than ever necessary for a complete picture of science literacy, which the 9–12 Benchmarks only approximate. So, when working with Benchmarks, be sure to have a copy of SFAA at hand.
Benchmarks was prepared as a tool to be used, along with SFAA, by everyone engaged in state or local efforts to transform learning in science, mathematics, and technology. The following suggestions for using Benchmarks came from Project 2061 team members, consultants, and staff, and from individuals who have seen prepublication draft versions of Benchmarks:
Study groups of teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, interested citizens, and, whenever possible, scientists, engineers, and mathematicians can use Benchmarks to explore the concept of science literacy in relation to instruction in the early elementary, upper elementary, middle-, and high-school grades.
Cross-grade, cross-subject committees of teachers and curriculum specialists can use Benchmarks to gauge how well a K–12 curriculum or curriculum framework (state or local) addresses education for science literacy. Such an analysis can also lead to suggestions for making immediate and long-term curriculum and course improvement.
Developers of instructional materials can use Benchmarks to guide the creation of materials to support the work of teachers who are trying to foster science literacy for all students. Similarly, test writers can use Benchmarks to develop grade-level materials and techniques for assessing student progress toward science literacy.
Other reform efforts may find Benchmarks useful in supporting their work, just as Project 2061 has relied on so many of them for ideas and information. The federal programs that drew heavily on SFAA, such as the Statewide Systemic Initiatives (National Science Foundation), the Eisenhower Science and Mathematics Initiative (Department of Education), and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, have indicated that they intend also to use Benchmarks.
Universities and colleges that prepare elementary- and secondary-school teachers can use Benchmarks to supplement SFAA. Whereas SFAA explores the concept of science literacy in general, Benchmarks raises issues closer to the realities of curriculum and instruction.
Researchers can use Benchmarks to identify important topics for investigation. Such topics might include studies on the grade-level placement of benchmarks, the relationship between benchmarks and their precursors, effective ways to group benchmarks into instructional units, how to assess student progress toward science literacy, and how to evaluate learning materials and techniques used in support of the benchmarks.
Copyright © 1993,2009 by American Association for the Advancement of Science