The Richmond School Board voted 8-0 on Monday to adopt two new science curricula for the upcoming school year, a year ahead of the Virginia Department of Education’s statewide implementation of new standards for the 2022-23 school year.
Virginia Department of Education spokesperson Charles Pyle said the implementation of the 2018 state science standards should have happened statewide this year, but the three-year process was delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021-22 school year will see many school systems across the state continuing to use the 2010 state science standards, which until 2018 were the most up to date, while also incorporating some of the content from the 2018 standards, Pyle said.
He added that while students will see some questions pertaining to the 2018 standards on next year’s Standards of Learning tests, they will not count against the students’ scores until the full implementation of the standards in 2022-23, including in Richmond.
To meet the new standards, RPS will purchase two third-party science curriculums for different grade levels for the upcoming school year. Grades kindergarten through eight will receive Amplify Science, which promotes hands-on learning through interactive activities, while grades nine through 12 will receive SAVVAS Science, which uses a combination of digital and print resources.
The cost of the curricula was unavailable Monday night.
Joshua Bearman, an instructional specialist for Science for RPS who was a part of the 14-person evaluation committee that helped select the curricula, said the school system is moving toward a more project- and phenomenon-based learning style of teaching as opposed to traditional, textbook-based teaching, which the two new curricula can assist with. He said they will also help provide teachers with a road map for a more engaging classroom experience.
“The curricula are tools to achieve a goal,” Bearman said, “the goal being this kind of more integrative and engaging style of learning and teaching.”
According to the presentation on the curricula given at Monday’s meeting, SOL data shows that only 60% of RPS students are science-proficient. School Board member Kenya Gibson, who abstained during the votes for both the curricula adoption and contract approval, cited the statistic as part of her decision not to support the new curricula.
“Hearing statistics like that, and then recognizing that we are making so many changes like this, I think, for me, provides evidence to recognize that this is not the right time to be making this choice,” the 3rd District representative said in an interview.
During the June 7 board meeting when the curricula change was introduced, several RPS educators voiced their opinions on the change, with some expressing support and others concerns about the challenges associated with a possible learning curve for educators.
Five teachers requested additional time to understand the new curricula in submitted comments to the board, while six teachers wrote in favor of the proposal.
According to Bearman, the implementation and training phase for school administrators and educators was supposed to begin this month, but the dates listed within the presentation were based on the vote occurring on an earlier date. He said the process will begin as soon as possible.
“I can’t say that we will have quite the level of trauma or difference in the following years that we had in this year, but next summer there will be something that would be an impediment to it as well,” Bearman said. “So just kind of seems like, in some ways, given that everything is going to reset mode, it’s as good a time as any.”
According to Tracy Epp, chief academic officer for RPS, only grades three through 12 will see a curriculum change in the upcoming school year, while kindergarten through second grade will not get a new curriculum during the upcoming year, but at a later time. Epp said that is because of the desire for teachers in kindergarten through second grade to focus on other subject areas, such as early literacy.
Echoing Bearman, Epp said that implementing the new curriculum for the next school year would be beneficial.
“As a teacher, I would want the most current, up-to-date resources to help support my instructional planning and delivery,” she said. “So I understand that there’s a lot that we’re working to adjust coming out of the pandemic.
“I would also say that our students, having been out of school for a year and a half in-person, truly just cannot afford to have another year with anything that’s less than up to date.”