Area schools preparing for shift to new science standards

MANISTEE — Teachers and administrators throughout Manistee County have been preparing for the past several years for some drastic changes in science standards (performance expectations) and how it is taught to students.

Manistee Intermediate School District consultant Kim Rinehart said the new concept is going to change the way students are tested in science challenging them to be more interactive — seeking their knowledge of different subjects. No longer will state assessments for science be multiple choice type questions.

“Two years ago in December 2015 Michigan adopted the Michigan Science Standards that are based entirely on the Next Generation Science Standards,” said Rinehart. “We have been doing professional learning on those standards since even before Michigan adopted them because we knew it was coming.”

Rinehart said most schools have already begun to implement the standards, but it is going to be a multi-year process because it is a major change.

“The biggest change is we are moving from a list of content standards or facts to a list of performance expectations,” said Rinehart. “These are things that students need to do acting like scientists and thinking like them.”

Rinehart said previously the way science worked was students learned facts and then recited them back on a test.

“Students still need to learn that content, but they need to be able to do the science and think like a scientist,” she said. “This was prompted by there has been a huge shift where the jobs and careers are going. Everything is moving towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).”

The trend, Rinehart said, is not only important to have the right mindset for science, but for anything in life. It is being implemented at the K-12 grade levels. There are very specific core ideas, but they loop and are broken up by grade levels K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and then high school.

“They are exposed to the same main ideas at different degrees all the way through,” said Rinehart. “There are some actual topics that have shifted grades, but the major change is from teaching facts to a facilitator of getting the students to do the thinking and learning. It’s a huge deal for teachers and a huge deal for students because they are not used to having to think and engage at this level.”

She said there also is a shift for parents in terms of what they might be seeing and hearing coming home with the students from the classroom.

Rinehart said it does make a difference what grade the students are in, as high school students who have gone through the previous system must re-set their thought process.

“I have heard about some struggles with students who have performed quite well in the traditional classroom because now it looks different,” said Rinehart. “However, when we work with lower elementary teachers they are really excited because when kids come into school they already have that thought process in place of asking questions and thinking about things. That is what we want kids doing, but we’re kind of been taking them out of that thought process over the years to one of just learning the facts.”

She said over the last two years, the ISD has provided lots of professional development on what the new performance expectations included and how are they different.

“Now we are starting to move into how we can teach differently with them,” she said.

The plans right now call for the M-STEP starting this spring to be in fifth grade, eighth and 11th grade. It used to be fourth and seventh grades where that science testing was done.

“For the springs of 2018 and 2019, we are going to be field testing and piloting the M-STEP science with new items that are going to look different,” said Rinehart. “Students will be asked to think more and it isn’t going to be multiple choice recall. It will call for more critical assessment and thinking.”

She said in the spring of 2020 will be the first year when the scores really count on the science assessment.

School districts throughout the county test to prepare for the M-STEP with the NWEA during the school year. Rinehart said NWEA has changed their assessment so it lines up  better, but it is still a multiple choice question format.

“I feel it is very difficult to assess the new standards the way it should be assessed with multiple choice questions,” said Rinehart. “The good thing is that we know that and looking at the data we can still look at what is going on in the classroom, but we have to look at it as another piece of data.”

Rinehart said it varies how often they meet with the teachers as the science network meets four times a year every other month at the ISD. That includes representatives from every school district.

“This is the big topic we talk about,” she said. “Some districts we are in more often then others right in their building,” she said. “It’s taken a lot of time, but they have been working hard and we are going to be ready for it.”

For more details onNext Generation Learning Standards visit and the Michigan Standards can be found at

Science and Engineering Standards students must learn

The practices describe behaviors that scientists engage in as they investigate and build models and theories about the natural world and the key set of engineering practices that engineers use as they design and build models and systems.

The National Research Council (NRC) uses the term practices instead of a term like “skills” to emphasize that engaging in scientific investigation requires not only skill but also knowledge that is specific to each practice. Part of the NRC’s intent is to better explain and extend what is meant by “inquiry” in science and the range of cognitive, social, and physical practices that it requires.

Although engineering design is similar to scientific inquiry, there are significant differences. For example, scientific inquiry involves the formulation of a question that can be answered through investigation, while engineering design involves the formulation of a problem that can be solved through design. Strengthening the engineering aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards will clarify for students the relevance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the four STEM fields) to everyday life.

Asking Questions and Defining Problems

A practice of science is to ask and refine questions that lead to descriptions and explanations of how the natural and designed world works and which can be empirically tested.

Developing and Using Models

A practice of both science and engineering is to use and construct models as helpful tools for representing ideas and explanations. These tools include diagrams, drawings, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations.

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Scientists and engineers plan and carry out investigations in the field or laboratory, working collaboratively as well as individually. Their investigations are systematic and require clarifying what counts as data and identifying variables or parameters.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Scientific investigations produce data that must be analyzed in order to derive meaning. Because data patterns and trends are not always obvious, scientists use a range of tools — including tabulation, graphical interpretation, visualization, and statistical analysis — to identify the significant features and patterns in the data. Scientists identify sources of error in the investigations and calculate the degree of certainty in the results. Modern technology makes the collection of large data sets much easier, providing secondary sources for analysis.

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

In both science and engineering, mathematics and computation are fundamental tools for representing physical variables and their relationships. They are used for a range of tasks such as constructing simulations; statistically analyzing data; and recognizing, expressing, and applying quantitative relationships.

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

The products of science are explanations and the products of engineering are solutions.

Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Argumentation is the process by which explanations and solutions are reached.

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Scientists and engineers must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively the ideas and methods they generate. Critiquing and communicating ideas individually and in groups is a critical professional activity.


Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at

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