After facing an onslaught of opposition, New Mexico’s Public Education Department officials on Wednesday decided to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards “in their entirety” with just six state-specific standards, well short of the 35 additions the agency proposed last month.
The science standards outlined by Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski on Wednesday contain none of the omissions or changes to the Next Generation Science Standards proposed last month by the agency. Those proposed changes prompted an outcry from scientists and educators.
His decision Wednesday comes after his announcement last week that he would reinstate the original wording regarding evolution, the rise in global temperatures and the 4.6 billion-year age of Earth – the three revisions that had generated the most outcry.
Ruszkowski said Wednesday the public debate about the proposed standards had become a distraction from the vital work of implementing standards that will “raise the bar” and improve student outcomes in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
“I feel this issue is dragging the public away from tangible, meaningful outcomes,” he said in a phone conference with the Albuquerque Journal late Wednesday.
“Every day that this goes on is one day less we can get ready for implementation,” Ruszkowski said. “Ultimately, our goal from the beginning has been to raise the bar for our kids, consistent with how we have been raising the bar for the past six years, and have a focus on implementation.”
The science standards the PED unveiled last month were based on the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, issued in 2013 by a consortium of 26 states, the National Science Teachers Association and other groups. But the PED’s proposed STEM-ready science standards included a number of additions, omissions and changes to the NGSS.
They included 35 additional standards, substantive changes to nine standards, and one fully omitted standard, according to an analysis prepared by the New Mexico Science Teachers Association.
An Oct. 16 public hearing on the proposed standards in Santa Fe drew hundreds of opponents, including scientists, educators and faith leaders, who demanded that the state adopt the NGSS as written, without the proposed changes.
The standards that Ruszkowski outlined on Wednesday included just six additional standards he called “New Mexico connections.” They include two elementary school standards, one middle school standard and three high school standards unique to New Mexico.
They include a standard that asks students to describe advantages and disadvantages of technologies associated with the state’s local industry and energy production.
Another asks students to communicate information about the role of New Mexico in nuclear science, including theoretical, experimental and applied science.
He said the revisions to the New Mexico-specific standards were based on input from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, New Mexico Math and Science Council, the New Mexico Science Teachers Association and others.
The new standards will go into effect July 1, 2018, with full implementation in the 2019-2020 school year. The goal is to have students start being tested on them in the spring of 2020.
After the standards are published, the next step is to publish supplementary material for teachers such as the “framework,” which provides guidance on how to plan instruction to meet the standards.
The standards are better and more rigorous, he said. They stress critical thinking and hands-on applications, as well as ensure science is being taught in the early grades of elementary school.
Ellen Loehman, a member of New Mexico Science Teachers Association, said she was pleased with the PED’s decision when reached Wednesday night.
“We thank the secretary for listening to all the public comments,” she said. “We are pleased and looking forward to a good working relationship.”
Dave Peercy, president of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education, agreed.
“That was exactly the thing to do,” he said. “It was pretty unanimous.”
And Charles Goodmacher, spokesman for NEA-New Mexico, credited the unanimous voices of “New Mexico scientists, educators, environmentalists, and countless others” for PED’s change of heart on the standards.
Ruszkowski said it’s essential that the focus now move from input – what is being taught – to outcomes – what students are learning.
“I do think that this proposal is our best path forward towards a smooth and urgent path to implementation,” Ruszkowski said of the proposal he described Wednesday.
“My contention is that fundamentally what is going to make New Mexico competitive is our student outcomes – the number of schools earning an A, the number of kids proficient in math and reading and science, the number of kids graduating from high school,” he said.