The National Research Council (NRC) released A Framework for K–12 Science Education in July, and work has begun on the development of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that will be based on the goals and recommendations of the framework. Achieve, Inc., is managing this state-led effort and is involving many stakeholders in the process, including numerous science teachers now serving on writing and review teams.
The framework provides valuable guidance and recommendations to encourage the development of standards allowing for the teaching of science in greater depth. Translating the Framework into standards that can be supported by the science education community and all states, however, is a huge and complex task.
NSTA is a committed partner in the process of developing new standards, but we are also a friendly critic to ensure the NGSS are the best they can be. Last summer, we assembled a team of experts to help NSTA’s leadership fully explore the draft framework and identify areas we felt needed improvement. We provided these recommendations to the NRC. We reconvened the team following the release of the final Framework to examine the document in depth to determine any general weaknesses and deficiencies, and to consider the previous recommendations made to the NRC and identify areas we thought needed further interpretation and direction. Our team collectively made nine recommendations we feel Achieve should consider and incorporate when drafting new standards:
- Maintain or reduce the number of endpoints and other outcomes included in the core disciplinary ideas. Progress in reducing the number of standards (and benchmarks) from previous documents has been made. Great care should be taken not to dilute this progress by increasing the amount of endpoints with additional science content.
- Ensure the standards are written, and clearly described, as outcomes to be accomplished by all students. Use the disciplinary ideas as the organizing structure of the performance expectations.
The outcomes described in the framework’s endpoints of the core ideas are similar to those in the National Science Education Standards (NSES) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy, but the nature of the practices is not clear. Teachers and other educators are most familiar with the content ideas described in the disciplinary ideas, and using them as the organizing structure will make it easier for educators to interpret the document.
- Clearly develop each standard as an outcome that incorporates all three dimensions. This will entail clarifying the use of crosscutting concepts and the scientific and engineering practices in the integration of these two dimensions with the core ideas. The nature and use of the crosscutting concepts and scientific and engineering practices is unclear. More work is needed to better define whether they are outcomes parallel to the endpoints or if they are to be assessed or included in the instruction that leads to the performance outcome of the endpoint.
- Clarify further the nature of scientific and engineering practices. Clearly delineate between what students are to know and be able to do and how they should be taught those things.
The practices are written as behaviors but are often described as requiring an understanding. References in the framework address the practices as instructional strategies. This ambiguity and confusion among doing the practices, understanding the purpose and role of the practices, and using them to design classroom instruction needs to be clarified.
- Make use of the NSES, Benchmarks, and Atlas of Science Literacy. The standards will need language to clearly describe what students are supposed to know and be able to do. The NSES and Benchmarks have a great deal of language that has been carefully thought out, particularly describing concepts in life, Earth, and physical science, but also some in technology. The Atlas provides advice on sequencing that can be useful in deciding on sequences, not only within particular topics, but between topics as well.
- Explicitly include nature of science in the standards.
The framework is missing explicit learning goals about the nature of science. While engaging in practices will provide students some understanding of some aspects of the nature of science, the framework falls short of what students need to know about the relationships among science, technology, and society and important episodes in the history of science.
- The standards should include multiple examples of performance expectations and should be carefully crafted to ensure that performance is a clear indication of understanding the endpoint described in the core idea.
The endpoints are stated as components of core ideas, not behaviors. To accomplish the cognitive outcome, performance must provide evidence that understanding has been accomplished. Since multiple performances are called for, care must be taken to ensure each one, independent of the others, represents an understanding of the endpoint. When writing the performances, an outcome different from the idea/concept in the endpoint must be avoided.
- Carefully attend to the K–2 grade band as the foundational set of the rest of the standards.
The K–2 level not only facilitates the reduction in the number of standards at higher grade levels, but also holds the greatest potential for implementation failure. Teachers at this level typically have limited science content knowledge and need clear images of these ideas and support to understand how the standards can be implemented. Clear links and explicit examples of how to integrate literacy and numeracy into the science standards is essential if we expect instructional time to be allotted at the K–2 grade band.
The last recommendation focuses on a significant new area of the framework we believe requires greater context, clarification, and support for science educators to ensure the successful implementation of new standards.
- Include a supporting chapter or section in the standards document that addresses the relationship between science and engineering practices and inquiry.
Given the complexity and multifaceted nature of inquiry and practices, NSTA believes they will likely be the biggest challenge to successfully implementing the standards. The term inquiry has been used within the science education community for many years, although with varying degrees of understanding. Because the framework is making a significant shift to practices, it will be critical to provide transitional support.
Additional details on NSTA’s recommendations, as well as more information and resources regarding the NGSS, are available online at www.nsta.org/ngss. NSTA will continue to be involved in the standards-development process and represent the voice of science educators. Look for future updates in NSTA Reports, NSTA’s journals, and the website.
NSTA is grateful to the members of the review team who have provided expert advice and leadership. They include Harold Pratt, NSTA past president and science education consultant; Susan Koba, National Science Education Leadership Association president and science education consultant; Mike Padilla, NSTA past president and associate dean and director at Clemson University; JoAnne Vasquez, NSTA past president and vice president and program director at Helios Education Foundation; and Ted Willard, project director for the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Project 2061.