Preparation in Natural Science

Statement on Preparation in Natural Science Expected of Entering Freshman

Spring 2016

In 2013, California adopted revised standards for education in the natural sciences based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These new standards were designed to move away from an exhaustive list of content toward a greater focus on outcomes that would indicate a deeper understanding of underlying scientific phenomena. This Statement of Competencies in the Natural Sciences Expected of Entering Freshmen is intended to update the 1988 Statement on Natural Science Expected of Entering Freshmen in order to reflect this shift in science education in California. The Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates (ICAS) appointed faculty from the California Community Colleges, California State University, and the University of California to a task force charged with updating the previous statement to reflect current practices in science education.

California only requires students to complete two years of science while in high school. With that fact in mind, the task force spent significant time considering the creation of two sets of expectations, one for those students planning to pursue a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) and one for students planning to pursue other degree options. Instead, ICAS encourages high schools to emphasize the value of taking more science courses. More extensive education in science will help students build important skills like analytic problem solving, organization, teamwork, and study skills and will not limit the possible majors available when students are applying for admission.

This document consists of two distinct sections. The first section describes the benefits of scientific literacy beyond understanding the individual scientific discipline, the incorporation and exploration of engineering practices within scientific disciplines, the importance of technology with an emphasis on the skills developed during science courses, and a description of several common elements that are woven through all scientific disciplines. The second section is divided into four scientific disciplines, with each discipline providing a summary of performance expectations and examples of how each of the common elements relate to those disciplines. The four disciplines are as follows:

  • Chemistry
  • Earth & Space Sciences
  • Life Sciences
  • Physics 

This document does not make any recommendations regarding the way high schools should structure their science courses. Each school serves a unique student population, has different resources, and should create a course structure that maximizes those resources in serving its students. Every student graduating from high school that plans to attend a college or university is expected to achieve all of the performance expectations outlined in NGSS and this document.

Research from American College Testing (ACT) shows that students are more prepared for college when they take more science courses. ACT found that 13% of students taking less than three years of high school science are prepared on the ACT Readiness Benchmark in Science. Forty-five percent of students taking a course in biology, chemistry, or physics were found to be prepared (ACT, 2006). Harvard tells hopeful applicants, “The natural sciences help to explain, to predict, and sometimes to control, the processes responsible for phenomena that we observe. They constitute a large and growing portion of human knowledge important to everyone. Even if you have no intention of becoming a scientist, an engineer, or a physician, you should study science throughout secondary school” (Donaldson, 2013). The University of California A-G subject requirements strongly encourage students to take three years of a laboratory science. Ultimately, the number of years that a student spends taking science courses will depend on the structure of the high school’s curriculum, but taking more science has clear benefits for all students.

To ensure that all entering freshman are prepared to complete their degrees in a minimum number of units, this document is based upon the following recommendation:

For proper preparation for baccalaureate level course work, all students should be enrolled in a science course in each year of high school. All students benefit from the knowledge acquired and skills developed through completion of additional science courses. These skills will be invaluable in assisting students with the completion of their degrees, no matter what major they choose.

Many students may consider taking an Advanced Placement (AP) science course while in high school. AP courses can help students build upon skills gained in previous science courses, but taking a second course in one discipline should not replace a course in another. Students should be encouraged to take AP science courses only if they do not conflict with the completion of all of the performance expectations listed in NGSS.

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