New testing requirements that will take effect this fall under the federal No Child Left Behind Act are forcing schools to ramp up their science instruction—and curriculum companies are responding in turn with solutions designed to meet schools’ needs.

For the first time under the federal law, schools will be required to test students in science once a year in elementary, middle, and high schools beginning in the 2008-09 school year. Schools can use science test scores as an "other academic indicator" to determine whether they meet AYP.

The change has prompted several educational technology companies to launch new or redesigned science curriculum products designed to help educators boost students’ understanding of science.

Last fall, Curriculum Advantage launched a new elementary school science program called Classworks Science. The company reported that its customers highlighted a critical need for science instructional software.

The program is designed for third through fifth graders, and similar products for middle and high school students are in development.

“Teaching science is a unique challenge, because science is content-based—not skill-based—and science vocabulary is technical,” said Cathy Sump, Curriculum Advantage’s director of product marketing. “Time spent on science is often short-changed, as more of the school day is spent focusing on math and reading. Also, the chronic shortage of elementary science teachers makes teaching science in elementary schools that much more difficult.”

The new Classworks Science product uses the Lexile Framework to provide a common, developmental scale to match students’ reading abilities with the reading levels of its instructional materials.

NBC News is lending its considerable resources to help spark students’ interest in science, with the release of a collection of science and technology videos spanning scientific milestones and the latest scientific discoveries. Students and teachers can explore both historic and current developments in science, such as the discovery of atomic energy, the beginning moments of the space race, and the latest findings about global climate change.

The videos include more than 1,000 two- to five-minute clips referencing current and historic scientific discoveries and technological innovations that K-12 educators can use to expand and deepen classroom discussions. NBC News says it will update this video archive as new scientific discoveries are made, and the videos are accompanied by curriculum resources that include lessons on traditional subjects such as biology and chemistry, as well as “high-interest” topics such as forensics and environmental science.
These science resources are available online at HotChalk, a free, web-based learning management system designed specifically for K-12 educators. HotChalk helps teachers develop customized lesson plans and assignments, locate and integrate curriculum materials, and manage assignments and grading.

Content can be searched for by topic, such as earth science, astronomy and space science, life sciences and biology, physical sciences, chemistry, forensic science, and computer science and technology.

In December, CTB/McGraw-Hill released Acuity Science, a solution for formative assessment of science content in grades 3-8. Acuity Science assessments help educators measure student progress and deliver reports that can inform their instruction, helping teachers ensure their students are on track to meet state standards in science.

Acuity Science contains predictive components, including one early indicator and one predictive assessment aligned with state standards. It provides diagnostic tools to support science teaching and learning in elementary and middle school in the areas of life science, physical science, earth science, and scientific inquiry.

Diagnostic assessment items are designed with answer choices that help reveal student misconceptions in science—misconceptions that result in gaps between grade-level expectations and actual student achievement, CTB/McGraw-Hill said. Educators can use these data to identify aspects of the curriculum that require additional focus, to help all students meet grade-level expectations. In addition, animated, online items probe students’ science understanding at an even greater depth of knowledge, the company said.

At the Florida Educational Technology Conference earlier this year, American Education Corp. previewed new science content that will be added to its A+nyWhere Learning System courseware in the near future. The company has developed brand-new science programs to replace its current offerings in grades 1-8.

The new programs will offer more content and lessons than the current versions, and all content will be aligned with the National Science Education Standards for science testing under NCLB. The company also announced a new physical science offering for high school, and it said predictive assessments would be added to all of its courseware soon as well.

And earlier this year, Discovery Education launched Discovery Education Science for Elementary, a new digital service that helps educators make science come alive for young students, while also reinforcing key math and literacy skills.

The product is an extension of Discovery Education Science for Middle School, which the company introduced last year. It’s organized into four areas: Learn, Explore, Demonstrate, and Extend.

In the Learn area, teachers introduce scientific concepts through reading passages, inquiry-based introductions, and video segments. In the Explore area, educators and students can work together through a number of virtual labs and inquiry-based explorations of topics within a unit. The Demonstrate area lets students show their understanding of key concepts through print or online assessments. The Extend area encourages additional learning by enabling students to access middle-school-level resources on particular topics. It also lets students see connections between concepts by exploring concepts that relate to each other.

“Discovery Education Science for Elementary transforms the way elementary school educators teach science,” said Tracie Belt, an educator at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Instead of spending time going between different resources to find the appropriate materials for [their] students, teachers can now go to one central place and find digital content that helps students learn key concepts and encourages additional interest in the sciences.”

Links:

American Education Corp.

Curriculum Advantage

CTB/McGraw-Hill Acuity

Discovery Education

HotChalk and NBC News science and technology videos