Science Course Information

It is the responsibility of each school district to determine which of its science courses are considered lab-based and meet CADR (College Academic Distribution Requirements). To make that determination, districts may refer to specific information about the course’s alignment to the science standards and to lab-based science resources.

To assist you with questions about online science courses, the OSPI Digital Learning and Science Departments compiled resources on this page and featured key information from the online providers in the DLD course catalog.

Sources. Definitions and criteria are derived from two guiding documents: America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science (National Research Council (NRC), 2006) and Goals, Guidelines, and Standards for Student Scientific Investigations (International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), 2010).

What is lab-based science?

Lab-based science courses include “laboratory experiences [which] provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models and theories of science” – NRC’s America’s Lab Report.

The NRC also explains that “laboratory experience” includes learning both about the process and the content of science.

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Can a student get a meaningful lab experience online?

iNACOL makes this statement in the Goals, Guidelines, and Standards for Student Scientific Investigations report:

“Almost all educators agree that exposure to scientific investigations is an important part of learning science. We believe that online science courses, consisting of a thoughtfully designed sequence of investigations that are deeply interconnected with the relevant content instruction, can provide this exposure equally as well (and sometimes better) than traditional classroom-based experiences.”

iNACOL further states that the question should not be whether hands-on lab experiences are better than virtual, but rather how to combine the two approaches for the most effective learning. Several advantages are stated for virtual laboratory experiences:

  • Students gain experience with real experiments and data without as many restrictions on resources, lab space, and access.
  • Professional scientific laboratory practices are increasingly using computer-mediated techniques, models, and simulations.
  • With lesser time required for setting up, breaking down, or clearing equipment, more time can be spent on substantive conversations with fellow students and teachers.
  • The current practice of science is changing rapidly, and all students need to be prepared to collaborate effectively as a part of a distributed team.

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How can I learn more about a specific DLD online science course?

  • Course description and syllabus. Start with this information which is available for each course in the DLD course catalog.
  • Standards alignment. Each provider assures their courses align with at least 80 percent of the Washington State standards. Access to a course’s standards alignment document is available in the DLD course catalog or by request.
  • Lab experience listing. Some providers have prepared information on lab experiences which can be accessed in the DLD course catalog or by request.
  • Materials required. Some providers have prepared information on the materials required for science lab participation which can be accessed in the DLD course catalog or by request.
  • Access to the online course. The opportunity to review the actual course is available by request.

To request more course information or obtain access to the actual course, contact Rhett Nelson, Online Learning Program Manager, at

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What resources are available to evaluate the instructional strategies and lab experiences of online science courses?

In Goals, Guidelines and Standards for Student Scientific Investigations, iNACOL developed guidelines based on the NRC’s identification of seven goals of laboratory experiences and four curriculum design traits necessary to accomplish the goals. We derived the following rubric-style documents from those guidelines and have also provided links to the standards and CADRs.

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What else should I know about online science courses?

Make sure you understand how the course is structured for each particular provider.

  • If the course offers the option of hands-on or virtual labs (wet labs or dry labs), make sure you know which version the student opts for (or maybe your school policy is always to require one or the other). In making your decision on whether the course is lab-based, you will want to evaluate both the hands-on and virtual lab experience. They may both qualify depending on your district’s criteria, so you will want to make sure the student gets the science learning experience that s/he is expecting as well as what the school is granting credit for.
  • If you require lab experiences to be performed onsite or at an independent facility, be mindful that the scheduling of the lab time might disconnect the lab experience from its integration in the content instruction. For instance, a student who continues on with the online lessons while waiting for the opportunity to perform a physical lab will not be experiencing the timely application of knowledge and skills at the point they were presented.
  • If you have not accepted virtual experiences in the past, consider reviewing the virtual experience. A computer-mediated experience or simulation may be equally rich with analysis and distributed collaboration opportunities—good skills to have in the professional science world!
  • What does "optional" mean? If a science materials kit is listed as optional, it may be because there are alternative labs available that teach the same objectives and use materials that might be on hand at home or in the classroom. These labs may not be as in depth as the experiences with the kits. If the lab manual is optional, it may mean that virtual labs can be performed in place of hands on labs. If you see some aspects of the course are optional, ask your registrar or OSPI DLD for clarifying information.

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Whom may I contact for more information?

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National Research Council. (2006). America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Committee on High School Science Laboratories: Role and Vision, S.R. Singer, M.L. Hilton, and H.A. Schweingruber, Editors. Board on Science Education, Center for Education. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. [accessed April 2012].

Jona, Kemi, and Adsit, John with Allison Powell and the NACOL Committee on Online Science. (2008, Updated August 2010). Goals, Guidelines, and Standards for Student Scientific Investigations.[accessed April 2012].

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