Available Tools, Option H:
Comparison of Benchmarks
and National Science Education Standards

Estimated Time: 30 minutes.

List of Materials

Sample Presentation
Presenter: The purpose of this activity is to show the extent of agreement between Project 2061’s Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Science Education Standards (NSES) prepared by the National Research Council. Benchmarks and the NSES can give states and school districts a solid conceptual basis for reforming K-12 science education, and can save them time and resources in developing their curriculum frameworks. Materials developers and publishers are already linking their work to Benchmarks and to NSES.

The importance of basing reform on a coherent set of learning goals such as those proposed in these two documents has been widely accepted. A 1995 report by the Council of Chief State School Officers states that recently adopted state science curriculum frameworks are generally consistent with the content structure in AAAS Benchmarks and the National Science Education Standards. An additional 25 new science frameworks are under development and are likely to be strongly influenced by these model documents.

TRANSPARENCY: NSES Acknowledgment.

Presenter: The National Research Council has drawn extensively on Project 2061’s work and has expressed its indebtedness to Project 2061 tools in the introduction to the NSES. These two documents represent a strong national consensus among educators and scientists on what all K-12 students need to know and be able to do in science, mathematics, and technology. Together they represent over a decade of investment and deliberation by thousands of educators and experts in science and technology. As part of this process, Project 2061 compared the content recommendations of the NSES and Benchmarks to determine the degree of accord between the two documents and to identify differences between them. It revealed that the content goals in the two documents overlap extensively. The comparisons we will look at today were taken from Resources for Science Literacy: Professional Development, which contains the full NSES/Benchmarks comparison.  

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Areas of Agreement.

Presenter: The comparison revealed extensive similarity between Benchmarks and the NSES; for example:

Optional: TRANSPARENCY: Strand Map: Flow of Matter.

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Nature of Science.

Presenter: Even the language of many NSES fundamental understandings is similar to that of Benchmarks, as their treatment of the nature of science illustrates. These extensive areas of agreement constitute a powerful mandate for reform of science education.  

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Radioactive Isotopes.

Presenter: As this example shows, both Benchmarks and NSES reflect great care in choosing words to precisely convey scientifically sound goal statements consistent with the latest research on how children learn. Changes in the language of learning goals should not be undertaken lightly, as the language represents hard-won consensus among thousands of science educators across the country.

Differences between the two documents have informed the development of NSES and will influence future revisions of SFAA and Benchmarks. For example, Project 2061 intends to add to Benchmarks the notion that water is a solvent and carries dissolved minerals, found in NSES, because this idea can help weave together concepts that are already in SFAA and Benchmarks—the cycling of minerals and properties of living cells.

Yet, differences highlight some important issues that are worth considering as you proceed with your own work.  

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Correspondence of Content Divisions.

Presenter: The most obvious difference between the two documents is in their organization. Here you see that although the content of NSES matches Benchmarks 90% or better, that content is organized rather differently. Ideas that appear in a single section of NSES may appear in several different sections of Benchmarks—and vice versa.  

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Correspondence of Cell Content.

Presenter: In this example of content organization, we see that material regarding the cell can be found in several sections of Benchmarks. Using a still different organization as you prepare your framework will make it more difficult for you to point to links between curriculum materials, national standards and benchmarks, and your framework, particularly inasmuch as materials publishers are linking their work to the national documents.

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: NSES Topics Not Included in Benchmarks.

Presenter: Another difference is that about a dozen ideas that appear in NSES do not appear in Benchmarks at all—and about two dozen vice versa. These differences are really quite small in comparison to the hundreds of ideas these documents have in common.  

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Benchmarks Topics Not Included in NSES.

Presenter: Here we see topics included in Benchmarks that are not in NSES.

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Ideas NSES Takes Further.

Presenter: This transparency lists ideas that NSES takes further than SFAA/Benchmarks does. Some were considered for inclusion in Benchmarks. Project 2061’s decision to exclude topics involved a cost/benefit analysis in which the payoff of knowing an idea, intrinsically or as support for other ideas, was weighed against the investment of time and effort required to learn it and the ideas needed to support it.

TRANSPARENCY: Uses of SFAA/Benchmarks.

Presenter: The usefulness of either document will be enhanced by careful study of the other. For example, comparing the wording of learning goals in NSES and Benchmarks will help to clarify the intent of those goals. In the same way, referring to relevant sections of NSES should be helpful as you use SFAA/Benchmarks to

Perhaps some sound advice to reformers comes from Jim Rutherford, Director of Project 2061, as quoted in Education Week:

Dr. Rutherford also had a message for states and districts interested in writing their own science-education standards: Stop. "The States and local school districts ought to stop trying to make up standards," he said. "They can easily take all the materials where the two documents are now in accord and not waste their time."

Presenter: Resources for Science Literacy provides guidance in using SFAA and Benchmarks for each of these purposes. For any of these uses to be successful, careful study of the set of specific learning goals is necessary. A detailed comparison of each NSES fundamental concept to specific benchmarks can be found on Resources for Science Literacy: Professional Development.

TRANSPARENCY: Why Use Nationally Developed Learning Goals?

Presenter: Why should we use specific learning goals like those in SFAA, Benchmarks, and the NRC National Science Education Standards to guide reform? SFAA and Benchmarks do not claim to be national standards and the National Science Education Standards are themselves voluntary. So why should you pay attention to them? Because both documents