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The Development of the Next Generation Science Standards

An NSTA Background Paper

Writers of Science for All Americans (AAAS 1989) were the first to clearly define the “understandings and ways of thinking [that] are essential for all citizens in a world shaped by science and technology.” Standards efforts responding to this initiative included Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS 1993) and the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996).

Since then, major advances have been made in both the world of science and in our understanding of how students learn science effectively (NRC 1999; NRC 2012, pp. 80–82). Among this research is strong evidence that “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design.” It also concludes “knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K–12 science education” (NRC 2012, p. 11). To achieve the goals of science literacy, new science standards are needed to reflect this expanded body of knowledge, including the premise that students can only fully understand the disciplinary core ideas by engaging in the practices.

The National Research Council, Achieve, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science became lead partners in the two-part process to develop next generation science standards with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The work involved numerous science teachers, among many other stakeholders, and was informed by NSTA’s early work on a science standards effort called Science Anchors.

A National Research Council (NRC) expert committee was charged during the first part of the process to establish the foundation for new standards. In 2012 the NRC published A Framework for K–12 Science Education (NRC 2012) based on research on teaching and learning science, as well as on the latest efforts to establish “foundational knowledge and skills for K–12 science and engineering.”

The Framework recommends that new science standards reflect this knowledge and be built around three major dimensions: practices used by scientists and engineers to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design, content that includes a limited number of core ideas in four disciplinary areas, and crosscutting concepts that provide overarching connections among all sciences. The Framework elevates the role of scientific and engineering practices as the means to foster a deep, rich understanding of science and technology.

The second part of the process was the development of new standards that reflect the vision of the Framework. In a process facilitated by Achieve, Inc., 26 states led this effort and worked collaboratively with a 41-member writing team—many of them teachers—and with stakeholders in science, science education, higher education, industry, and others. All stakeholders were invited to review and comment on two public drafts. NSTA supported the effort by recommending science teachers for the writing team, submitting extensive reviews by teams of science educators from across the country, and providing additional insight and guidance along the way. The Next Generation Science Standards were released in April 2013. The new K–12 standards are presented by grade levels in kindergarten through fifth grade and by grade bands for middle and high school.


American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 1989. Science for all Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 1993. Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

National Research Council (NRC). 1999. How people learn: Bridging research and practice. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

National Research Council (NRC). 2012. A framework for K–12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

This background paper was developed in 2013 as part of the NSTA Position Statement: The Next Generation Science Standards.

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