On September 23, 2016, the Wyoming State Board of Education (SBE) approved the proposed 2016 Wyoming Science Content and Performance Standards for Governor Mead’s consideration. On November 14, 2016, the Governor signed the new standards into law. Now the standards are in the hands of Wyoming’s 48 districts for local curricula development and must be implemented within three-and-a-half years, by the 2020-2021 school year.

Wyoming’s new science standards were modeled after the Next Generation Science Standards written by the National Research Council and the National Science Teachers Association, with significant input from 41 Wyoming educators, parents, business leaders, and community members. These science standards are customized for Wyoming students. The new standards address traditional science concepts while adding new features including science and engineering practices, as well as cross-cutting concepts or themes in science, such as “Patterns can be used as evidence to support an explanation.” The board-adopted standards also emphasize connections to other subject areas like Math, Health, and English Language Arts.

Statewide Assessments & Local Curriculum Development

Wyoming’s new science standards will form the basis for new statewide assessments and locally customized curricula. But districts won’t have to go it alone. The Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) will provide assistance with professional development and a toolkit of resources, much of which will be shaped by Wyoming-based educators from the science standards committee. In addition, Campbell County School District #1 (CCSD) and science education faculty from the University of Wyoming have already partnered to develop units of instruction that meet the challenging expectations of our new standards. Interested districts may contact CCSD and request permission to use or adapt their units. There is also a new course offered by the University of Wyoming that will help teachers and other instructional leaders interpret the new science standards and develop curricula for them.

Alternatively, some districts may decide to collaborate with nearby districts to jointly unpack the standards and design units of instruction or seek out model units online via open-source material. Still, other districts may decide to create an entirely localized science curriculum. Given the complexity of the new Wyoming Science Content and Performance Standards, there may also be serial professional development opportunities for Wyoming science teachers. Some may even be funded using the Title II-A federal sources under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

“Our students will now have access to the best science education available,” said SBE chairman Pete Gosar. “Designing local curricula will be challenging. We encourage district leaders to find ways to collaborate, adapt other districts’ units, or find generous time to work on curriculum development, professional development, and local assessment development in order to align with these new state standards.”

Public Input Process

The WDE Supervisor of Standards, Laurie Hernandez, presented the final public input and the edited science standards at the September 23 SBE meeting. Over the previous 18 months, 10 public meetings were held across the state and 377 public comments were collected. The State Board of Education extended the mandatory 45-day public comment period to 64 days, which occurred from June 10 to August 12, 2016. During this time the WDE again reviewed and edited the standards to ensure clarity.  

“I made a commitment to the voters of Wyoming to include all voices in the standards review, development, and adoption process, and this week marks the conclusion of a nearly two-year effort to deliver on that pledge,” said state superintendent Jillian Balow. “Today, thanks to an inclusive process and a notable effort by Wyoming Department of Education staff and the standards review committee, we have world-class standards that prepare our students for the next steps in life, teach them about science topics in Wyoming’s back yard, and foster a love for science.”

Three-year Implementation

The SBE is giving Wyoming’s districts three-and-a-half full years to complete the implementation and phase-in process. For most districts, this complex process begins with unpacking the standards, which typically means groups of elementary, middle, and high school teachers read through the standards for their grade level or course and decide which ones they are already doing and which need to be integrated. Sometimes, teachers need to consider completely redesigning a course or creating a new one.

The new science standards are built on K-12 progressions. For example, Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions are introduced in Kindergarten, and the concept is expanded on in third and fifth grade, and then more deeply taught at the middle school and high school levels. This is a considerable change from previous science standards, which were assigned to broad grade-level spans like kindergarten through 4th grade, when local educators were allowed to teach to standards anytime during that span. The new standards set expectations for each grade level during the elementary years.

It is important to note that the state science assessment will continue to assess students on the 2008 science standards, until the three-and-a-half year implementation phase is complete. That means the new statewide science assessment aligned to these standards won’t appear until spring 2021. Because the new standards are so much more rigorous than the previous set, students who receive instruction on the new state standards will be well prepared for the current state science assessment system.

Of course, that curriculum development work is merely prelude to the ongoing work of instruction, adaptation, evaluation, and redesign. When one looks at the state assessment of science as part of PAWS in grades four and eight or the science test that is part of the ACT test, it is easy to see how challenging it is to teach science. Wyoming’s new Science Content and Performance Standards will most certainly create challenges and opportunities for teachers and instructional leaders. Districts may have to consider departmentalizing the science program during the elementary grades. Entire sequences may need to be revised at the middle grades. And certainly, new courses may appear at the high school level.

The challenges proposed by these new science standards are considerable, but the teachers, principals, curriculum directors, and instructional facilitators of Wyoming are up to the challenge. More importantly, when the 2016 Wyoming Science Content and Performance Standards are fully implemented, Wyoming’s students will be the beneficiaries of a high-quality science education from Kindergarten through Grade 12.