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Background

It is widely accepted that the majority of Americans is not scientifically literate (Yager, 1997). Although science literacy survey scores seem to be increasing, most Americans still cannot answer relatively simple questions about the workings of the natural world or the enterprise of science (McComas, Clough, & Almazroa, 1998; Miller, 2004).

Concern for literacy in science became a major goal of education following the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957. This unexpected development, referred to as a “technological Pearl Harbor” (Mooney, 2005) created fears that America was no longer ahead of the Soviets in science (Kirst, Bird, & Raizen, 1997). The National Defense Education Act of 1958 was passed to regain the technological lead by strengthening science achievement in the United States (Brauer, Forrest, & Gey, 2005).

Through the 1960’s education reform became concerned with the Civil Rights Movement, which also led to an increased role of the federal government in education. Science education at that time focused on research (Abramson, 2008). In the 1970’s and 1980’s higher-achieving students were “groomed” for careers in science and engineering, rather than science education being tailored for all students (Tobias, 2007).

In the 1980’s several groups worked to develop science curricula to be applied to all students, rather than just those on a track to become scientists. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) published Science for all Americans as part of its Project 2061 in 1989 following a resolution by the United States House of Representatives that called for literacy in math and science. Science for all Americans has as its central theme a set of recommendations to be used to attain scientific literacy (Bybee, 1995). Included in this set is the relationship between science and mathematics, and an understanding of the nature of the scientific enterprise. AAAS published Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy, Part I: Achieving Science Literacy in 1993 which added objectives for reform of science curricula, including NOS.

The National Science Teachers Association published The Content Core at about the same time, and in 1991 petitioned the National Research Council (NRC) to develop national science standards (NRC, 1996). Other documents such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in 1994, and the Report of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future in 1996 stressed the importance of other aspects of education, including the role of teachers and the educational system as a whole on student success (Yore, 2001). 

The National Science Foundation and the Department of Education provided major funding for the Standards. An oversight committee formed by the NRC began meeting with teachers, scientists, and science education specialists in 1992 with a “pre-draft” produced in 1994. After extensive reviews and changes, the Standards were released in 1996. The Standards call for difficult, sweeping reform in science education by the states, including the addition of content on NOS, which was recognized as an important aspect of science literacy (NRC, 1996). Generally the NSES call for a deeper knowledge over broader knowledge.

Florida does not have a good reputation for compliance with the NSES. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Florida’s science standards a grade of “F” in 1998 (Lerner, 1998). Two years later the Fordham Institute rated Florida’s handling of evolution in its science standards an “F” (Lerner, 2000). In its 2005 report the Thomas Fordham Institute again gave Florida’s state science standards a grade of “F” noting that they were in revision (Gross, 2005).

Revision of Florida’s science standards began in 2006 following legislation requiring revision of standards every 11 years. Reasons for the revision include low student performance on state, national and international tests, inequity in achievement among minorities, what is seen as inadequate preparation for students leaving secondary schools for college or the workforce, and the realization that ACT scores for Florida graduating seniors were lagging behind the national average and are falling (National Academy of Sciences, 2007; Fl. Bureau of Exceptional Ed. & Student Services, 2008).

K-12 curricula in Florida were, until 2008, controlled by the Sunshine State Standards (SSS) published in 1996. The SSS identify what students should have learned and be able to do in each of the following grade groupings: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. The organizational hierarchy, from most general to specific, proceeds as follows: the Strand is a general category, such as reading and math. Below this is the Standard, relating to expectations about student skills. Most specific is the Benchmark. It is expected that benchmarks be taught concurrently in classes. Lesson plans are expected to reference benchmarks Florida Department of Education, 1996).

The NGSSS were released in February, 2008. These standards contain a new treatment of NOS by which students are expected to understand the methods of science, and how science fits within its parent culture. The organizational hierarchy, from most general to specific, proceeds as follows: the Body of Knowledge is a general category, such as NOS or Physical Science. Below this is the Standard (called Big Idea in K-8) relating to recurring themes to be built upon through the grades. A NOS example of a Standard is “The Role of Theories, Laws, Hypotheses, and Models”. Most specific again is the Benchmark, expected to be referenced in lesson plans by teachers.


The goal of NSES is for all students to achieve scientific literacy, and this literacy is considered to be crucial to maintaining the United States’ international lead in science and technology (AAAS, 1989; AAAS, 1993; NRC, 1996). Yet in spite of this, science curricula in the U.S. are becoming increasingly politicized by special interest groups (Gross, 2000). For example, the anti-evolution Discovery Institute’s Wedge document (1999) has as its governing goals no less than “to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies,” and “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

Other groups seek to advance claims of controversy where none exists so as to sew seeds of doubt in students for subjects in which established science is at odds with cultural or economic goals, e.g. climate change and use of fossil fuels (Mooney, 2005). To evaluate such claims it is essential that students have a strong background in NOS.

Studies on the NOS have progressed from assessment of students’ understanding of NOS, to assessment of curricula designed to improve student understanding of NOS, to assessment of improvement of teachers’ understanding of NOS, to studies of the relationship between teacher’s understanding of NOS, classroom practice, and student understanding of NOS (Lederman, 1992). Workers have found that students have a na´ve view of NOS (Lederman & O’Malley, 1990; Liu & Lederman, 2002). Additionally, teachers have been found to have insufficient understanding of, and misconceptions about NOS (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000; Lederman, 1999; McComas, et al., 1998). Other research has found that teachers’ attitudes toward science play a roll in their teaching of NOS (Lederman, 1992). Teachers must understand NOS to teach it successfully (Schwartz & Lederman, 2002).

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests (FCAT) is the test by which the state assesses how well students are making progress toward meeting the NGSSS benchmarks. The FCAT began assessing the new NGSSS in 2012. During the transition period between adoption of the new NGSSS and the inclusion of relevant material in the FCAT, Florida’s school districts will have to take steps to ensure that teachers are able to teach NOS to keep FCAT scores from falling.

An analysis of the gaps between the NGSSS goal (i.e. teachers who understand NOS well enough to teach it in compliance with the new NGSSS) and teachers’ current understanding of NOS is essential to identify what steps need to be taken to provide in-service training to educate teachers on NOS. The proposed needs assessment research will provide valuable input for administrators and curriculum specialists whose task it now is to provide teachers with the tools they need to teach NOS successfully.

Literature cited Here.

Return to Science Here.

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