Assessing Earth Science in Texas
Edward C. Roy Jr.

Geoscientists have been working for several years to restore the prominence of earth science in Texas high schools and to reverse the 1998 removal by the Texas State Board of Education of core earth science courses. Last year, the Texas Education Agency created the Earth Science Task Force to examine the role of earth science in Texas education (Geotimes, September 2002). And this month, the Texas State Board of Education will hear directly from us, the earth science community.

The Earth Science Task Force has submitted a number of recommendations to the board, which are essential to the future of earth science in the state's high school curriculum. At a Feb. 26 meeting, the board will begin considering these suggestions. Broad and strong support from the geoscience community in Texas is needed if we are to achieve our goals. Earth science belongs in the core curriculum of Texas' high schools if we truly intend to improve the science literacy of the students and ultimately the citizens of Texas.

Submitted to the Texas State Board of Education Committee on Instruction in September 2003, the Task Force's report contains eight recommendations intended to strengthen the earth science curriculum in middle school and high school in Texas. During the previous year, the Task Force met seven times at locations around the state to study the issues and to gather input from the various constituents of the state. In addition, Task Force members presented at conferences and meetings of science education groups in Texas. These presentations were intended to inform the constituencies and to obtain feedback from these groups. After one year of study and discussion, the Task Force finalized its report.

The original charge given to the Task Force was to study how earth science is taught in high school and to make recommendations relating to it. The members of the Task Force thought it was necessary to study the middle school curriculum as well. An important linkage exists in student learning of science content and concepts between grades 6 to 8 and grades 9 to 12; therefore, several recommendations were made that will improve the earth sciences at the middle school level.

We have carefully assessed the earth science content in high school and middle school curricula, with special emphasis on the earth science content and concept in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and the assessment of this material, Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. We have compared the content in earth science in the state curriculum to the National Science Education Standards. The comparison and the expert opinion of members of the Task Force demonstrate that the current high school curriculum is extremely deficient in earth science content and that the middle school curriculum is also deficient in some areas. The Task Force strongly supports the equal treatment of the earth and space sciences with the life sciences (biology) and the physical sciences (chemistry and physics) in the high school curriculum as stated in the National Science Education Standards.

Our first recommendation to the Texas State Board of Education is to redesignate certain earth science courses from an elective status to an option for science core credit. The two courses — Geology, Meteorology and Oceanography and Advanced Placement Environmental Science — would then satisfy the third science requirement for those students in the high school Recommended and Distinguished Achievement plans who take Biology, and Integrated Physics and Chemistry.

We are also proposing that the board require four years of science for the Distinguished Achievement Plan, one of which should be an earth science course. Further, four years of science should be required for high school graduation, and at that time, earth science should become a required science course that is tested on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

When the science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills undergoes revision, the middle school curriculum for earth and space sciences should be revised so that it will be better aligned with the National Science Education Standards. Additionally, schools should implement an eighth-grade science assessment that includes earth and space science concepts. On the high school level, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills should test earth and space science concepts and objectives.

The State Board of Education should direct the Texas Education Agency to redesign and augment the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for the course Geology, Meteorology and Oceanography, to incorporate core concepts with other important aspects of earth science. An expert panel would provide scientific guidance for these revisions. We further suggest the State Board of Education direct the Texas Education Agency to develop an earth systems course specifically to provide students with an integrated science experience.

Lastly, we recommend that a teacher certification program in the earth sciences be reinstated, to fast-track qualified earth science professionals to become earth science teachers.

The Committee on Instruction has approved a timetable for the implementation of the recommendations. If the board approves the first recommendation on Feb. 26, it will require further consideration at two additional meetings before the State Board of Education will take a final vote. The Task Force's recommendations will strengthen the earth sciences in the curriculum of the state's secondary schools and increase the science literacy of all students.

Roy is the Pryon Distinguished Professor of Geology at Trinity University in San Antonio and chair of the Earth Science Task Force in Texas.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in Comment by the authors are their own and not necessarily those of AGI, its staff or its member societies.

"Earth Science in Texas: A progress report," Geotimes, September 2002.

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