Examining the Next Generation Science Standards: their Background, Development, and Vision - Part 2

Thursday, August 22, 2013 -- Shagit Thakkar

Shagit Thakkar, Curriculum Manager at Edmentum specializing in science content, continues part two of his series, “Examining the Next Generation Science Standards: Their Background, Development, and Vision.”

What Sets the NGSS Apart?

The NGSS build upon the Framework’s foundational view: that proficiency in science is related to a body of knowledge in connection with a continual inquiry process. Whereas the Framework lays the foundation, the NGSS identify the specific performance expectations for K-12 students, with each expectation carefully tying together appropriate science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and cross-cutting concepts.

This merging of knowledge, practices, and overarching themes into individual performance expectations is a defining attribute and sets the NGSS apart from traditional standards. Together, the performance expectations represent the goals – the things students “should be able to do” – to be proficient in science.

The development of the NGSS as a modern, competitive set of science standards reflected numerous other guiding initiatives of note. Among them:

  • The more prominent role of engineering design as a fundamental practice. The NGSS call upon students to apply engineering design—a systematic practice for problem-solving—across all disciplines and grade bands.
  • The review of established international benchmarks. Toward shaping the NGSS, Achieve carried out an evaluation of the science standards of nations with top scores in international assessments, identifying key trends and exemplary features.
  • New priorities in content scope. The NGSS feature unprecedented coverage of Earth and environmental sciences, climate science, and biological evolution as compared with traditional standards.
  • Cross-alignment with the Common Core State Standards. As science relies upon the disciplines of math and language, the NGSS were built such that they do not misalign with the CCSS for Mathematics and English Language Arts.

Interpreting the NGSS means knowing what the standards “are” and what the standards “aren’t” – the NGSS are not a curriculum, meaning they do not dictate how performance expectations are to be organized into a course of study. Similarly, although the NGSS are streamlined to focus on core expectations, they do not intend to restrict the topics that can be taught within a course of study. These features are left in the hands of instructors and curriculum designers.

State-level Adoption and Future Trends

Where do the NGSS go from here? Just as all states were invited to lead the development of the standards, all states, both lead-states and non-lead-states, may elect to adopt the NGSS on a voluntary basis. Similarly, states may prepare their own timelines and strategies for implementing the standards in the classroom. Trends to watch:

  • Which states will adopt?  States have begun their formal processes of evaluating the standards for adoption, and on May 23rd, Rhode Island became the first state to adopt the NGSS officially, followed by Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland, and Vermont in June.
  • Will “different” be well-received?  The NGSS will undoubtedly seem new and different to those who are accustomed to traditional standards, especially in terms of scope and organization. For example, the NGSS are streamlined in scope, promoting depth over breadth and more weight on science practices. This strategy – and the absence of traditional amounts of explicit detail in the standards, as a result – has prompted debate and mixed reviews. Notably, the Fordham Institute has rendered a mediocre rating for the NGSS; meanwhile, a response statement by the National Science Teachers Association scrutinizes the methods employed in the Fordham review, calling into question the effectiveness of traditional criteria used for evaluating modernized standards. Certainly, it remains to be seen how educators nationwide will take to the new, progressive features of the next-generation standards.
  • How will states implement the NGSS?  The developers of the NGSS advise a complete adoption of the standards without alteration. Nevertheless, states may decide to derive their own standards using the NGSS as the foundation. California has already developed and submitted for review a new set of science content standards based on the NGSS (shaped by public input, the proposed standards feature custom grade-level mapping and minor revisions to NGSS clarification statements).
  • What will state transition plans look like?  Putting a new, ambitious vision into practice in the classroom will take time and investment. To implement the NGSS will demand waves of professional development and new curriculum materials in each state. The NSTA and Achieve will work with states to help with the process (the NSTA has compiled certain resources here), including the development of a rubric to help demonstrate the alignment of instructional units with the standards. An important trend to watch is how states might band together to tackle these transitional processes in larger groups.
  • What about assessment?  In contrast with the Common Core State Standards, no universal assessment is planned for the NGSS; rather, assessment is left to the states, meaning each adopting state will prepare its own plan for assessing the standards. A panel of experts at the National Research Council is, however, preparing a conceptual framework that will provide recommendations for developing reliable assessments.

NGSS and Edmentum

With the release of the Next Generation Science Standards, Edmentum has been busy in development of solutions aligned to the NGSS, both in Study Island and Plato Courseware.

  • Plato Courseware has been aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and correlation reports are available within the product and on our support site.
  • New Study Island programs built in correlation with the Next Generation Science Standards for Grades 3-5, Middle School Physical Science, Middle School Life Science, Middle School Earth and Space Science, and High School Biology are now available. 

Keep following Edmentum for NGSS updates and solutions. What are your thoughts on the NGSS?  What do you think sets the NGSS apart from previous science standards?