Science Reasoning and the College Readiness Standard (CRS)

What Are the College Readiness Standards?

The ACT Corporation - makers of the popular EXPLORE, PLAN, and ACT tests - has created a collection of standards describing what science students should be able to do with that which they know. The standards, known as the College Readiness Standards (CRS), describe various scientific proficiencies that the ACT deem as being important for success in future studies in college and career performance. The standards were created as the result of thorough consultation and interviews with experts in science and science education.

The CRS do not describe specific content knowledge. Rather, the standards describe a variety of skills that students possess that allow them to reason within a scientific context. As such, the CRS describe science reasoning skills. The skills are grouped into three strands. The strands are titled:

  • Interpretation of Data
  • Scientific Investigation
  • Evaluation of Models, Inferences and Experimental Results

What Are the College Readiness Standards Like?

Examples of specific standards within the Interpretation of Data strand include:

  • Determine how the value of one variable changes as the value of another variable changes ... .
  • Translate information into a table, graph or diagram.
  • Identify and/or use a simple (e.g., linear) mathematical relationship between data.
  • Identify and/or use a complex (e.g., nonlinear) mathematical relationship between data.
  • Extrapolate from data points in a table or graph.
  • Analyze given information when presented with new, complex information.

None of these standards describe what students know. Rather, they describe the ability of students to reason scientifically as they make efforts to interpret data in the form of graphs, tables, charts and diagrams. These describe the skills that science teachers typically attempt to instill within their students. They also describe the science reasoning skills that students need to be successful in both science coursework and science-oriented careers.

Examples of specific standards within the Scientific Investigation strand include:

  • Understand a simple experimental design.
  • Understand a complex experimental design.
  • Predict the results of an additional trial or measurement in an experiment.
  • Identify an alternate method for testing a hypothesis.
  • Predict how modifying the design or methods of an experiment will affect results.

Once more, these standards do not describe what scientific knowledge students should possess. Rather, they describe the type of scientific know-how that students should possess in order to understand and conduct a scientific investigation. Students who know how to do science will demonstrate proficiency with these standards. And they will be more likely to achieve success in future science studies.

Examples of specific standards within the Evaluation of Models, Inferences and Experimental Results strand include:

  • Select a simple hypothesis, prediction or conclusion that is supported by a data presentation or a model.
  • Determine whether given information supports or contradicts a hypothesis or conclusion, and why.
  • Identify strengths or weaknesses in one or more models.
  • Determine which model(s) is(are) strengthened or weakened by new information.
  • Use new information to make a prediction based on a model.
  • Select a complex hypothesis, prediction or conclusion that is supported by two or more data presentations or models.

Again, these standards describe reasoning skills that students who are successful in science will be proficient at. They describe what students can do, not what they know. They are divorced from science content and tied to a student's ability to understand the basis for a model and to use a model to make predictions and inferences.

What's the Connection Between the CRS and the Science Reasoning Center?

The passages and accompanying questions at The Physics Classroom's Science Reasoning Center were designed to target the various science reasoning skills described by ACT's College Readiness Standards. The science reasoning skills are practiced within the context of a physics-related topic. The questions that target the science reasoning skills do not require prerequisite physics knowledge. When knowledge of a vocabulary term, physics concept, or physics formula is required to answer a question, the term is defined or the concept is explained or the formula is stated within the passage itself. By so doing, success on the specific question is possible only by application of the intended science reasoning skill. By providing the Science Reasoning Center, The Physics Classroom hopes to equip physics teachers with classroom-ready, teacher-friendly tools that, when combined with an effective lab program and solid instructional habits, help improve and assess the scientific know-how of their students.

The Physics Classroom recognizes that the science reasoning skills defined by the CRS are neither the final word nor the only word on the topic of science reasoning. Nonetheless, they are indeed a great starting point for any teacher wishing to make a more intentional effort at improving and assessing their students' science reasoning abilities. They provide a well-organized, clearly-stated, and relatively thorough description of what a science student should be able to do with what they know. The CRS also bear resemblance to many of the science practices found in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that are being adopted by many states. Four of the NGSS that are essential to understanding the nature of science are

  • Developing and using models,
  • Analyzing and interpreting data,
  • Constructing explanations, and
  • Engaging in argument from evidence.

The National Research Council - developers of the NGSS framework - claims that these practices "describe behaviors that scientists engage in as they investigate and build models and theories about the natural world." Like the science reasoning skills of the CRS, the Science Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards describe what science students should be able to do separate from that which they actually know. Both set of standards place the emphasis on know-how, as opposed to knowledge.

Where Can I Find More Information?

Those teachers who are interested in knowing more about the College Readiness Standards are encouraged to read the ACT publication titled Connecting College Readiness Standards to the Classroom. The document includes a statement of the standards, a description of their origin, a discussion of the importance of critical thinking skills, and numerous examples of how the ACT assesses student proficiency with respect to the standards.

Finally, the best statement of the College Readiness Standards can be found at: