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

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

Shagit Thakkar, Curriculum Manager at Edmentum specializing in science content, introduces us to the Next Generation Science Standards in part one of his series, “Examining the Next Generation Science Standards: their Background, Development, and Vision.”

The Next Generation Science Standards were published in final form on April 9th, capping a highly collaborative, state-led effort to rebuild science education standards in the U.S.  Nearly two years in the making, the NGSS underwent a methodical, interactive process of drafting and review, inviting public participation and feedback from all stakeholders in science education. As an extension of the Framework for K-12 Science Education, the creation of the NGSS represents the most comprehensive science standards initiative of its kind in over 15 years. 

Now that the standards are here, what will it mean for schools, students, and teachers? The answer lies largely in the hands of states. As a voluntary, state-driven movement, the NGSS will now rely upon individual states to bring the new standards and their vision to the classroom. 

Shifting Priorities in Science Standards

The NGSS certainly reflect a “next generation” of priorities for setting student performance expectations in science. Among them, the shift toward real-world application: whereas traditional standards tend to focus on science as a body of knowledge, the NGSS connect science knowledge with real-world problem solving through science and engineering practices.

This shift in priorities parallels the shifting demands for science and technology in the global market. Over the past decade, more and more attention has been given to concerns about:

  • workforce competitiveness in science/technology-based fields,
  • indicators of lagging student performance and engagement in science,
  • outdated science standards and practices amid new research,
  • and ensuring adequate science literacy within the population as a whole.

To become effective problem solvers and innovators of tomorrow, students will need a stronger base in real-world application during their K-12 science education – a key theme driving standards reform. With the National Science Education Standards and Benchmarks for Science Literacy having served as foundational documents for U.S. science standards since the mid/late 1990s, time became ripe to build “tomorrow’s” standards, aimed at college and career readiness in the modern marketplace. 

Developing the Standards

Step one was the creation of the Framework for K-12 Science Education, published by the National Research Council in July of 2011. Employing methodical, research-based approaches (including evaluations of how students most effectively learn science), the Framework broadly outlines the science that K-12 students should know.

In the fall of 2011, 26 lead-state partners were selected as part of step two: to develop a cohesive set of student performance expectations using the Framework as the basis. In a process coordinated by Achieve, a non-profit organization experienced in convening state leaders toward education initiatives, the state teams and other critical stakeholders in science education began their collaboration toward writing the Next Generation Science Standards.

  • All states were invited to join the lead-state coalition. States were selected based on their commitments to developing the new standards and giving strong consideration to adopting them.
  • The NGSS writing team consisted of 41 writers from the 26 lead-states. The team featured diverse professional backgrounds, including K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, engineers, and scientists.
  • Special measures were taken to ensure proper correlation between the standards and the fundamentals of the Framework.
  • The notably open and interactive development process featured five successive draft-review cycles, including two drafts released for public review. In total, over 200,000 public comments were received and processed leading up to final publication.

This highly participatory, “for states, by states” approach to developing the standards has played a key role. Creating a set of common science standards can be an endeavor prone to pushback; opening up the process and providing all stakeholders a say in the standards’ development has allowed more opportunity for consensus.

Stay tuned for part two where Shagit discusses the following key topics around NGSS:

  • What Sets the NGSS Apart?
  • State-level Adoption and Future Trends
  • NGSS and Edmentum