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Benchmarks for Science Literacy

A tool for curriculum reform

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This resource can also be read online.

The online version of this resource is also available in Spanish.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy is the Project 2061 statement of what all students should know and be able to do in science, mathematics, and technology by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12. The recommendations at each grade level suggest reasonable progress toward the science literacy goals laid out in the project's 1989 report Science for All Americans. Published in 1993 by Oxford University Press, Benchmarks for Science Literacy emerged from more than three years of work by Project 2061 staff in collaboration with teams of teachers at six School-District Centers, and with scientists and university consultants. It reflects the input of more than 1,300 individuals.

Designing a Curriculum

Benchmarks for Science Literacy is not a curriculum, a curriculum framework, or a plan for a curriculum. It provides educators with sequences of specific learning goals that they can use to design a core curriculum—one that makes sense to them and will help students achieve the basic science literacy goals outlined in Science for All Americans. Benchmarks does not advocate any particular teaching methods or curriculum design, nor does it spell out goals for advanced performance. In fact, it encourages greater curriculum diversity than is common today.

To help educators as they rethink their curriculum, Benchmarks:

  • describes the knowledge and skills that students are expected to reach on the way to becoming science literate;
  • concentrates on a common core of learning that contributes to the science literacy of all students while acknowledging that most students have interests and abilities that go beyond that common core, and some have learning difficulties that must be considered;
  • avoids the excessive use of technical language and jargon, both to reduce the sheer burden on students, and to prevent knowledge of vocabulary from being mistaken for conceptual understanding;
  • is informed by research on how students learn, particularly as it relates to the selection and grade placement of science ideas; and
  • encourages educators to recognize the interconnectedness of knowledge and to build these important connections into their curriculum units and materials.

Putting Benchmarks for Science Literacy to Work

Project 2061 carefully considered the implications that specific content standards such as those in Benchmarks for Science Literacy could have for curriculum and instruction and shared their thinking at workshops around the country with thousands of teachers, supervisors, principals, and state leaders. These workshops introduced participants to standards-based reform and highlighted the usefulness of Benchmarks and Project 2061's other reform tools.

Who has benefited from Benchmarks for Science Literacy and how? The work of Project 2061 has been used by educators, teacher educators, curriculum developers, museums, and others for a variety of purposes:

  • Crafting Standards and Frameworks. Many states used Benchmarks for Science Literacy in developing their own science standards, and the National Research Council drew on Benchmarks in developing the 1996 National Science Education Standards. National organizations and agencies that supported standards-based reform, such as the Statewide Systemic Initiatives program of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education's Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Education Program, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development to name a few, used Project 2061's publications extensively. More recently, the developers of Next Generation Science Standards made use of Benchmarks for Science Literacy to help frame the knowledge and skills that all students should have to be science literate.
  • Materials Selection and Development. Educators have used Benchmarks for Science Literacy to inform decisions on adopting new curriculum materials and to determine whether and how to improve existing materials.
  • Developing and Analyzing Assessment. With the growing consensus on the importance of science content standards as a way to organize curriculum and instruction, it is becoming increasingly important for assessments to test student understanding of those specific science ideas and skills.
  • Teacher Training. Colleges and Departments of Education across the country incorporated Benchmarks for Science Literacy into their science methods courses so that prospective teachers would become familiar with standards-based approaches to science education, including content selection, research that guides grade-level placement of that content, and assessment aligned to specific learning goals.
  • Informal Education. In support of K-12 science education reform, museums and science centers across the country have considered how to use national, state, and local science standards in developing their exhibits and programs. They have also used Benchmarks to select appropriate themes for science exhibits, train docents in what to expect children of certain ages to know and be able to do in science, and to plan professional development for teachers.

Related Focus Areas

Related Scientific Disciplines