Arizona’s Science Standards

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Science Standards for Arizona’s public schools recently received a “D” grade from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education think tank. Darcy Renfro of Science Foundation Arizona comments on the findings.

Ted Simons: Arizona's science standards recently received a D grade from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education think tank. The institute says, among other things, that chemistry and psychology standards in Arizona are, quote, "distressingly inadequate, and that evolution gets short shrift." Here to talk about what Arizona should take from the report is Darcy Renfro from the science foundation Arizona. Good to see you.

Darcy Renfro: Thank you.

Ted Simons: The education think tank, they do the reports and we take them somewhat seriously, don't we?

Darcy Renfro: We do. There's a long-standing history of rigorous reports on science standards. They did it in 2008 and 2005 and again this year. Digging down into what each state is doing and how they're doing with regard to science teaching.

Ted Simons: A D grade for social science standards in Arizona; fair?

Darcy Renfro: Well, I think when you look at the report and you see what they looked at. They read our actual standards and I think what I would take out of this report more than anything is what you see is a patchwork of science standards and different levels of -- of rigor and abilities applied across the United States. I think Arizona is one of many states that did not fare well and I think what is important to think about, why do we let kids -- why do we let kids learn at different levels depending on where they happen to live? From within state to state, you've some students in a state that has D level standards and some A level standards. What we need is to create high standards for all kids in the United States and Arizona, so that we have some way to gauge whether they're actually prepared for what they need to know in college and careers.

Ted Simons: The report says that the science standards were weak on content and that they were plagued by what they called disorganization, a lack of cohesion, frustration.

Darcy Rengo: Right.

Ted Simons: What does that mean?

Darcy Renfro: There's a progression and there are things that students need to understand before they can move on to the next level. It should be a logical progression of scientific concepts. They mean it's disconnected. In one grade you have a certain set of things that students are supposed to know and the next grade, another set and don't necessarily connect. We should be building on science year after year. Not just science, but the interconnectivity of science with mathematics and technology and how it works together and that's the direction we should be moving, how the things work together to help kids.

Ted Simons: Yeah, indeed. And ok. We've got science standards weak on content and science standards plagued by disorganization. Suffering from lack of cohesion. We also are hearing that California and Washington D.C. received an A grade. The only two states or regions that got an A grade. So the question becomes what can Arizona do -- ok, we don't need to go to A, perhaps, in one fell swoop. What can we do to improve?

Darcy Renfro: What they've already done, in math and language arts, internationally benchmarked standards and 48 states including Arizona and Washington D.C. have joined to raise the level of rigor and do that in a way that would enable to compare apples to apples. We look at California and they're getting a D -- an A. If we're playing off the same playbook, we'll know how our kids are doing as well as California. Arizona is one of 26 states leading the country in developing a similar set of common standards that states will adopt that are internationally benchmarked and we'll see the level of rigor, increase not just in Arizona, but amongst all of these states and we'll be able to actually compare not just us against California but against kids in Singapore and Finland and all around the globe.

Ted Simons: Not necessarily comparing us to California and Washington D.C., but what can we take from California and Washington?

Darcy Renfro: I think if you look at -- looking at science standards in isolation is a mistake and we need to look at how science, the interrelationship with math and technology, what are we teaching? Are we teaching them to think, the content they need to know in science and math and language art, and beyond that, to be good thinkers and solve problems and think critically, like when they go to work. When you go to work, you're not -- you're not looking at a set of concepts and memorizing them and spitting them back. You're taking what you know and applying it and we need to do a better job here and in other states. And if you looked California as a whole or Washington D.C. or beyond those -- Washington D.C., that they're doing a tremendous job and creating students that are going to be successful in life.

Ted Simons: Which is discouraging because this is important to competitiveness and security.

Darcy Renfro: Absolutely, and what we call stem education, to national security and economic competitiveness. In a state like Arizona we have a great potential to grow our innovative sectors and work from the university enterprise and research and development we derive and moving those into our markets and we need talent and need to continue to grow that talent. It's vital. And a state like Arizona where we have a high level of defense, a high defense industry, a big defense industry, we need students and U.S. citizens in those jobs that we need to build and grow here in Arizona to support that industry as well as.

Ted Simons: Do Arizona leaders understand the lack of -- this disorganization, lack of cohesion, the things mentioned in the report, I guess you would quibble with a paragraph or -- do they understand?

Darcy Renfro: Believe they do. Arizona is at a point to improve things for kids in Arizona. If you look at what the governor is doing with Arizona Ready and part of Arizona Ready was the race to the top plan that we competed for and ended up getting $25 million from the federal government to help support the implementation. We've done more without any federal dollars than I think the states that got $250 million or $300 million. But one of the requirements was to become a state that adopted internationally benchmarked standards and raised the level of expectation and developed the tools and landscape that will enable them to be successful with the high expectations. Support teachers and turn around schools not doing well and focus on them. Schools that are doing well, let them do what they need do and help the struggling schools and focus on helping the teachers know how to teach the standards. Having them is one thing. Being able to teach them in the classroom is a whole other thing. One of the things that the foundation is doing and asked to do by the governor and the private sector as well, to build a better -- to build a stem network and connect -- identify what's really working and able to replicate that. Identify what's going to help a teacher in the classroom translate these expectations into what a student learns and provides the -- a way to connect concept to real world in the classroom and capture and measure it so we know we're doing a good job as a state.

Ted Simons: Good information. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Ted Simons: Thursday on "Arizona Horizon" -- Hear from the state senate president and speaker of the house on the current legislative session. And I'll talk to the author of a comprehensive look at the history of Arizona. Those stories, Thursday at 5:30 and 10:00, right here on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening!

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Darcy Renfro:Science Foundation Arizona

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