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Lawmakers cautiously optimistic about PED's new science standards

Kassi Nelson
October 26, 2017 06:31 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. -- After weeks of controversy, the New Mexico Public Education Department has decided to adopt new science standards.

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The announcement came late Wednesday night before an early Thursday morning Legislative Education Study Committee meeting on those standards. Many of the state representatives on the committee say the announcement came as a surprise, and they only heard about PED secretary-designate's decision secondhand when they woke up in morning.

Those legislators they say they're hopeful but are moving forward with caution.

Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski's decision followed public outcry regarding what New Mexico's students will learn in science class.

 "As I said, New Mexicans and New Mexico is ready to move forward," Ruszkowski told KOB in a phone interview Wednesday night. "And every day we spend talking about input is one less day we spend that we're spending getting ready for implementation and talking about student outcomes. And we need to be focused on student outcomes, and in order for us to be laser-focused on student outcomes. Moving forward, we need higher and better standards. This gets us there."

Ruszkowski agreed to adopt new science standards hours before a legislative committee was slated to discuss new standards.

"It came in a timely fashion yesterday," state Rep. Jim Smith said. "At least it came before this committee hearing today, so we got to hear that it had been changed and we weren't battling in the committee over whether it was the right thing to do or not."

The original proposal included the Next Generation Science Standards, which are used by 18 states around the nation. But New Mexico's were much different -- 35 standards were added, and changes to several existing ones were made.

Last week, Ruszkowski announced he would undo some of the most controversial changes regarding the age of the earth, evolution, and climate change. After hundreds of people weighed in, he decided to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards "in their entirety" with six state-specific standards added.

It was a victory for those who voted the Next Generation Science Standards into law, only to have Gov. Susana Martinez to veto them.

"But I'm happy to see that the department is moving forward to adopt these standards," state Rep. G. Andres Romero said.

While there is excitement about the decision some are cautiously optimistic, saying they want to hear from the secretary-designate directly.

"I want a bigger guarantee than a newspaper story that we're not going to mess with the curriculum with the science standards," state Rep. Liz Thomson said.

The decision to adopt the standards did not come quickly or easily. Stan Rounds, the executive director for New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders and New Mexico Superintendents Association, has been studying the impact the adoption of new guidelines would have on the state. He said New Mexico still has a long road to get them in the classrooms.

 "What it does is really start a clock and that's what my presentation was today ... to really put that on the ground and implement that and that really is the harder of the work, to be honest with you," he said.

Now that the national standards are being implemented in their entirety, there comes a new challenge of how to get teachers up to speed with the new guidelines.

"You actually have to put together a framework of what that looks like," Rounds said. "The good news, in this case, is there's work that's been nationally done that will help invigorate our discussion in New Mexico and probably accelerate it a bit."

According to Los Alamos National Laboratory, other states have taken anywhere from three to five years to implement the standards. Not only does it take time, it also takes money.

 "There's a substantial resource implication in this -- not just in materials but in training in implementation. And from my chair, our students deserve nothing but the best in that," Rounds said.

Ruszkowski said he hopes to begin implementing the standards on July 1, 2018, and begin testing students on them in 2020. There is no word yet on how much putting the standards in place will cost.

SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS SPECIFIC TO NEW MEXICO

Elementary school

  • How have New Mexicans joined together to move science and technology forward
  • How have New Mexicans helped improve technologies through science

Middle school

  • What are the pros and cons of the technology of energy production in the state

High school

  • What are the pros and cons of human impact on a local New Mexico project
  • How has New Mexico impacted the role of nuclear science
  • Build an argument, using scientific method, to help solve a New Mexico challenge

Credits

Kassi Nelson

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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