POLICY REPORT: PTA Survey Reveals Parents’ Views on Science Education (NGSS)

November 6, 2018

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Nine Out of 10 Parents Agree Learning Science is Equally Important as Reading, Writing and Math

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California parents say that science learning is vitally important and they support the kinds of changes in science instruction envisioned in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), according to a recent survey conducted by California State PTA. The survey, with more than 2,000 respondents (see overview below), also revealed about half of parents believe their district does not provide enough science instruction at the elementary school level.

Parents’ belief in the importance of science was the strongest message out of the survey, with nearly nine out of 10 agreeing or strongly agreeing that learning science is equally important as reading, writing and math. The results were similar across all parents surveyed, regardless of the child’s age, their own science background, their ethnic and socio-economic background, or their engagement in school activities. In addition, 80 percent of parents reacted positively to messages that “science is central to how we understand and make sense of the world around us,” and “a strong science education is essential for college and career readiness.”

“As California proceeds with the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), it is important for parents to understand and support the changes schools are making,” said California State PTA President Dianna MacDonald. “Our survey results indicate parents think science instruction is vital and that they welcome the kinds of changes the state expects schools to put into place.”

When presented with descriptions of how instruction will change under NGSS, more than 80 percent of the parents surveyed said they felt favorably or very favorably toward the new standards. Parents find particularly appealing the idea that the new standards encourage students to ask lots of questions and emphasize hands-on investigation and discovery. They were equally positive about the new standards beginning at an early age and engaging students who may not think of themselves as “science kids.”

The respondents were also nearly unanimous in supporting the need for children to be equipped with critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills, consistent with the state’s learning goals in English language arts and mathematics.

The California State PTA survey also made clear that many parents see plenty of room for improvement in both the quality and quantity of science instruction their children currently receive.

  • Only 56 percent are satisfied with the amount of science their child is receiving, and the responses were markedly less positive among elementary school parents, with just 43 percent agreeing.
  • Less than half (46 percent) agreed with the statement “the science program at my child’s school is equal to the best schools in California.”

Asked whether their child attended a science class or had a science lesson either daily or weekly, seven out of 10 survey respondents said yes. However, that dropped to just over half (54 percent) among elementary parents.

Along with questions about their own children’s experiences, the PTA survey asked parents their opinion about whether science instruction in their school district as a whole was sufficient. The responses varied by grade level, with 53 percent saying their district was not providing enough science instruction in local elementary schools, 24 percent saying the same about middle schools, and 19 percent saying “not enough” in high school

The survey also indicates that schools could do more to enlist parents’ active engagement with science learning. Parents were nearly unanimous in saying it’s important for their child to have science-related learning experiences outside of the classroom but only half said they know a lot about the science their child is learning in school.

The majority also said they could better support their child’s science education if they better understood the curriculum and had ideas about fun science activities to do at home. Only about a quarter of parents agreed or strongly agreed that their child’s teacher provides those kinds of ideas, with the response consistent across all grade levels and ethnic backgrounds.

With the California State Board of Education’s formal adoption of instructional materials aligned with NGSS, more schools will be actively implementing new science teaching approaches. In addition, this spring students will take the first statewide science tests that will be reported for school accountability purposes. Notably, half of parents surveyed say that they are completely unfamiliar with the terms Next Generation Science Standards and NGSS.

Parents could play a significant role in helping schools’ NGSS implementation efforts succeed. However, their support will be much stronger if schools take the time to explain the new standards, address parents’ questions, and tap into their enthusiasm for science learning both in and out of school.

Understanding the Visual and Performing Arts Standards

PARENTS’ GUIDE TO THE VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS IN CALIFORNIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

California State PTA in partnership with Create CA is pleased to launch the Parents’ Guide to the Visual and Performing Arts in California Public Schools. This guide provides an overview of what your child will learn in the arts disciplines of dance, music, theatre and the visual arts by the end of each grade level.

By asking about the arts program at your child’s school, you are showing your interest in all students, not just the “talented,” having the opportunity to express their unique individuality through creating and learning in and through the arts.

The information is grouped into four sections (Spanish coming soon):

Download the full guide here in English (Spanish coming soon):

VAPA GUIDE

EXPLORE

  • A snapshot of your child as they experience the arts in their classroom at each grade level.
  • A few key examples of what is typically taught in dance, music, theatre and the visual arts at each grade level to use as a starting point in talking to
    your child’s teacher.
  • Questions to ask the teacher about your child’s progress in arts learning and about the school’s arts program.
  • Ideas for what you can do to help your child learn in the arts at school, at home and in the community.
  • If you are interested in expanding or improving the visual and performing arts program at your child’s school, key resources for getting started are provided.

The arts learning examples in this guide are based on the Visual and Performing Arts Framework for California Public Schools, the California Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards and the National Core Arts Standards. While standards in every subject area are revised over the years, if your child is being provided with the type of arts content suggested here in each grade, he or she will be well prepared for learning in the arts in each grade level.

“California State PTA is excited to provide this arts curriculum guide for parents and education advocates across California. In partnership with CREATE CA, California State PTA has put together a simple, easy-to-read guide of the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Standards by grade level. This guide, in conjunction

with the California Arts Education Data Project, will give parents and education advocates a snapshot of how a full arts curriculum advances student success socially, emotionally and academically.” – Dianna MacDonald, President, California State PTA

The California Department of Education is currently in the process of revising the visual and performing arts standards, which are scheduled to be published in 2019. Media Arts will be included in the new standards and added to this guide when available.

Four Big Upgrades to California’s Public Schools

California’s K-12 public schools are undergoing an ambitious remodeling project, with a focus on ensuring all students, no matter who they are or what their circumstance, graduate high school ready to succeed in higher education, careers, and in life.

All of these changes work together locally to give parents, students, educators and communities more of a say in the ways education funding is spent in their school district, how priorities are set, and the strategies used to meet the unique needs of all students.

Upgrades include:

  1. High Learning Standards for All Students
  2. Student-Centered Funding
  3. Locally-Created Plans for Your District
  4. Measuring Local Progress.

Download the flier in English or Spanish.

Parent Guide to State Tests

The California Department of Education, in collaboration with Smarter Balanced and Educational Testing Service (ETS), have launched two new websites for parents called “Starting Smarter” for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) and the English Language Proficiency Assessment for California (ELPAC).

These family-focused websites provide resources to facilitate parents’/guardians’ understanding of the scores presented on their child’s Student Score Reports. Using these websites, families can learn more about the performance areas in each subject and grade, see sample test questions, prepare for parent-teacher conferences with a useful downloadable guide, and access high-quality resources to support learning at home. The websites are also available in Spanish.

Visit ca.startingsmarter.org and elpac.startingsmarter.org to learn more.

Six Ways to Engage Families in ESSA

Parents and their children are the consumers of our nation’s public education system, and parents have always been essential partners in education. However, they haven’t always been included at the decision-making table. This has caused confusion, mistrust and backlash when new initiatives — whether at the federal, state or local level—have been considered and implemented.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides a unique opportunity for parents and families to give their input and to hold states and districts accountable for their children’s educational experience.

National PTA has identified six critical ways states, school districts and schools should be engaging parents and families as part of ESSA or any new education initiative. Use the rubric on the back to evaluate how your state, school district and school are doing!

ESSA Stakeholder Toolkit

National PTA has a new toolkit to assist state, local PTAs and their PTA members to ensure state leaders include how they have engaged and meaningfully consulted different stakeholders in the implementation of the new state education plans. The toolkit includes:

  • Sample social media messages
  • Graphics
  • Letters

Download National PTA’s ESSA Stakeholder Toolkit.

What You Need to Know About the New Math Placement Law

The California Mathematics Placement Act of 2015 requires school districts that serve pupils entering grade nine and that have not already done so to adopt “a fair, objective, and transparent mathematics placement policy” before the beginning of the 2016–17 school year. The mathematics placement policy must be adopted in a regularly scheduled public meeting.

This PTA supported law, SB 359 (Mitchell), addresses the math misplacement of students — especially students of color — as they enter high school. Correct math placement in ninth grade is crucial for educational success. Misplacement can result in pupils being less competitive for college admissions, including at the California State University and University of California.

Important Tip for PTA Leaders

elevatemathAt your next school board meeting:

  • Ask how your school district is implementing this new law
  • Share the sample school board policies and resources below
  • Help make sure the students in your local schools benefit from the California Mathematics Placement Act of 2015.

Resources for School Districts

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a sponsor of the bill, has put together resources to help school boards and communities implement the law and address the issue of math misplacement.

Digging Deeper

A letter from Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to County and District Superintendents and Charter School Administrators outlines the requirements of the new law:

“The mathematics placement policy for pupils entering grade nine must meet the following requirements:

  • Systematically takes multiple objective academic measures of pupil performance into consideration;
  • Includes at least one placement checkpoint within the first month of the school year to ensure accurate placement and to permit reevaluation of individual student progress;
  • Requires an annual examination of pupil placement data to ensure that students are not held back in a disproportionate manner on the basis of their race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic background;
  • Requires a report on the results of the annual examination by the local educational agency to its governing board or body;
  • Offers clear and timely recourse for each pupil and his or her parent or legal guardian who questions the student’s placement; and
  • For non-unified school districts, addresses the consistency of placement policies between elementary and high school districts.”

The math placement policy must be posted on the district web site.

What Families and PTAs Can Do to Support Civic Learning

Revitalizing K-12 civic learning in California will be a long process that will require strong and enduring commitments, and it is going to take effort from everyone. While we seek to implement the policy changes recommended here, we can each take action immediately to improve civic learning opportunities for all students.

As we chart the course for K-12 education in the 21st century, we must work together to bring quality civic learning opportunities to all children in California. Together, we can realize California’s civic promise and ensure that our schools fulfill their vital civic mission.

If we want to reach all children, policy has to set the context, but we do not have to wait for new policies to be in place before we take action to improve civic learning in California. There are many things we can do right away. The following suggestions come from hundreds of people like you.

FAMILIES CAN

  • Talk to their children about what they are learning in civics.
  • Vote, if eligible, and take their child with them.
  • Read the news and talk about news and politics with their children.
  • Attend public meetings and tell their children about what happens there.
  • Advocate for civic learning in schools.

PTAs CAN

  • Start a PTA award for outstanding civics projects.
  • Organize a “speakers bureau” for presenters such as local city council members and legislators on current events topics.
  • Organize volunteers to help with civics projects.
  • Host candidate forums and provide voter registration for parents.
  • Encourage families to vote.
  • Advocate for civic learning in school.

Learn more in the report.