Study: New Massachusetts Science Standards Inferior To Their Predecessors

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Read coverage of our new report in the Boston Herald:  “Experts say schools’ new science fare dumbed down.”

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Drafters failed to reflect recommendations of noted national expert

BOSTON – As a result of ignoring input from a distinguished national expert, Massachusetts’ Next Generation Science Standards adopted last spring by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) fall short, according to the second of a two-part analysis of the standards published by Pioneer Institute.

“The standards purport to explore fewer topics in greater detail,” said Paul R. Gross, lead writer of “What Goes Up Must Come Down”: New, Lower K-12 Science Standards for Massachusetts, and other, recent reports on the new, so-called Next Generation Science Standards for K-12. “But a series of additions make the new standards no less broad and shallow than their predecessors.”

California State University Northridge Biology Professor Dr. Stan Metzenberg’s study of a draft version of the standards that were released for review by the BESE was largely ignored by drafters of the final version.  He found that the draft standards excluded or minimized a number of important topics included in the earlier standards such as Mendelian genetics and large parts of cell biology.

The new curriculum frameworks also compress separate standards for each of the human body’s seven major systems (digestive, circulatory/excretory, respiratory, nervous, muscular/skeletal, reproductive and endocrine) into a single composite standard, reducing students’ knowledge and lessening their ability to talk to and understand their own physicians and make good health choices.

“Massachusetts has sacrificed science standards that were a national model for replacements that are clearly inferior,” said co-author Ze’ev Wurman.

The new standards are an adaptation of standards issued by the D.C.-based educational lobbyist Achieve, Inc.  And although there are a number of Massachusetts additions and repairs, they still miss important content and fail to make key connections.

Recently released results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study assessment found American students still trailing far behind their Asian peers.  Half the fourth graders in Singapore who took the test scored high enough to be considered advanced in math, compared with just 14 percent of U.S. students.

Under the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act and the previous state standards, Bay State students have achieved stellar results: leading the nation on every grade tested in reading and math from 2005 to 2013 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, called “the nation’s report card.” In 2007 and 2013, Massachusetts students were among the top performers in the world on international math and science tests.

The authors also find that the standards are expressed in a way that is unclear and unnecessarily complicated.

About the Authors:

Paul R. Gross is University Professor of Life Sciences, emeritus, of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, having served also as Vice President and Provost, and Director of the Center for Advanced Studies. He has taught on the faculties of New York and Brown Universities, the Universities of Rochester and Edinburgh, and at MIT. He was Director and President of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and a Trustee of Associated Universities, Inc. His scientific research and publications are in developmental and molecular biology. He writes also on the public and academic cultures of science, and on science education and literacy, and is active as a consultant in the creation of K-12 and college academic standards.

Ze’ev Wurman is a senior fellow with the American Principles Project. He participated in developing California’s education standards and the state assessments in mathematics between 1995 and 2007 in various capacities. Between 2007 and 2009 he served as a senior policy adviser with the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. In 2010 Wurman served on the California Academic Content Standards Commission that evaluated the suitability of the Common Core standards for California and was one of its two members who voted against their adoption for California. He has been published in professional and general media. In his non-educational life he is an executive in a semiconductor start-up company in the Silicon Valley and holds over 25 US patents.


Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.