Not Just “Science of Reading” -- Science AND Reading

It’s no secret that I’m a cheerleader for all things science of reading and high-quality literacy instruction – or that this subject area has by far the most momentum for positive change in the national curriculum landscape. But I’m also a watchdog for signs of improvement in quality science education, especially as elementary schools too often spend less time on science instruction than in the past. 

Before the pandemic, research showed K-3 students learned science for an average of just 18 minutes a day, compared with 89 minutes on reading and 57 minutes on math. The results of deprioritizing science in the classroom are worrying – only 36% of fourth graders tested as proficient or above on the most recent NAEP science exam. 

Yet at the same time as science falls down the list of priorities for learning recovery, demand for graduates with science skills continues to rise. Nationwide investments in STEM fields are continuing to bring important (and often high-paying) jobs to new corners of the country. New technology will also require foundational science skills for future graduates – 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t exist today.

It’s clear that we need to elevate attention to science instruction. But how? 

Some new research points to the promise of high-quality science materials. A recent study from NextGenScience analyzed the impact of using a high-quality science curriculum in first grade classrooms on science and literacy performance. Amplify Science offers daily lessons that weave literacy development into science learning, including a focus on reading. In the study, 40 schools in three districts were randomly assigned either to switch to Amplify or to implement their regular classroom instruction for a year. At the end, students learning with Amplify achieved higher scores on two end-of-year science assessments and scored no differently than their counterparts on a standardized reading assessment. 

WestEd observed, “The reading assessment findings are intriguing because they appear to suggest that teachers can teach considerably more science in the early grades using Amplify Science with some confidence that students’ reading scores will not be negatively impacted.”

Aha! A focus on science that does not take away from the focus on literacy. By seeking out high-quality science curriculum that addresses multiple essential skills at once, school and district leaders can prioritize science and reading. More of this, please.

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.