NSTA President Karen L. Ostlund
As this publication reaches you, you’ve likely organized classrooms, prepared lesson plans, created seating charts, met new students, and jumped into your first weeks of teaching. The beginning of the school year is busy; the fresh start can renew enthusiasm, excitement, and determination.
I share this enthusiasm, excitement, and determination, especially as it relates to promising developments in science education at the national level. For the past few years, the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) has progressed, building on earlier standards efforts and incorporating the new body of research about how students learn science. Interest from science education stakeholders in work on new standards is overwhelming. Twenty-six states representing 58% of the school population are leading the effort to develop the NGSS—a powerful message about their importance. There is also a great deal of anticipation for new science standards among science educators. In an online poll NSTA conducted last fall, 85% indicated strong support for common standards in science.
The first step in the two-step process to create NGSS was the development of A Framework for K–12 Science Education by the National Research Council (NRC). Released last summer, the Framework lays the foundation for the new standards. It describes the scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas all students should be familiar with by the end of high school, and how these practices, concepts, and ideas should develop across grade levels. NSTA’s Reader’s Guide to A Framework for K–12 Science Education helps educators understand and prepare for the expected science standards.
The second step is the creation of the standards in a state-led process managed by Achieve, Inc., in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, NRC, and NSTA. In May, the science education community had a chance to read and comment on the first draft. The biggest change many noticed is the architecture, representing a major conceptual shift from previous standards documents. The NGSS are written as performance expectations showcasing how students demonstrate knowledge. Performance expectations integrate three important dimensions—science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts—into each standard.
One of NSTA’s roles has been to secure feedback from the science education community on drafts of the Framework and NGSS. We’ve reached out to science educators to engage them in the process. NSTA’s work has been informed and guided by an expert group we assembled based on their knowledge of and experience with standards. This group includes four former NSTA presidents and a former president of the National Science Education Leadership Association.
When the first NGSS draft was released, NSTA took an in-depth look at the document and found much to applaud. We like the merging of the three dimensions of the Framework into performance expectations; we thought the NGSS foundation boxes will aid teachers in identifying where the content originated in the Framework; and we welcomed the links and connections from the NGSS to the common core.
We also discovered areas we think could be improved, and as a partner and critical friend, expressed these opinions to Achieve and shared this feedback with our members. For example, we would like the nature of science included. Research shows participating in science practices does not fully prepare students to understand the scientific enterprise. Students must have an understanding of science as a human activity and how scientists work. We believe the nature of science should be explicitly included, and this recommendation is one of seven we made to Achieve. To read all of our recommendations, visit NSTA’s NGSS resource page.
Writers are reviewing all the comments and will develop a second draft, to be released for public comment this fall. The final document is expected in early 2013.
NSTA fully supports the development of the NGSS and believes they offer an opportunity to move science education forward. We hope our feedback will have a positive influence. We appreciate the work that has been done.
Science educators are essential to the standards development process. NSTA is working to ensure all science teachers are aware of NGSS and have an opportunity to provide feedback on public drafts. We hope you will take time to review and comment on the next draft when it becomes available. In the meantime, we will continue to provide resources on our NGSS resource page to help you better understand the Framework and prepare for the standards.
The theme of my presidency is “Build the Scaffolding for 21st–Century Science Literacy.” Implementing the NGSS when they are completed will require the use of 21st–century science literacy skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. As students develop science literacy by integrating scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and core disciplinary ideas, they will erect the scaffolding to succeed.
I wish you much success this school year. We are here to support your work and hope you find what you need to succeed with our many programs, resources, and opportunities to connect.