Science

There is no doubt that science—and, therefore, science education—is central to the lives of all Americans. Never before has our world been so complex and science knowledge so critical to making sense of it all. When comprehending current events, choosing and using technology, or making informed decisions about one’s healthcare, science understanding is key. Science is also at the heart of the United States’ ability to continue to innovate, lead, and create the jobs of the future. All students—whether they become technicians in a hospital, workers in a high tech manufacturing facility, or Ph.D. researchers—must have a solid K–12 science education.

Through a collaborative, state-led process, new K–12 science standards have been developed that are rich in content and practice and arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education. The Next Generation Science Standards are based on the Framework for K–12 Science Education developed by the National Research Council.

  • Every NGSS standard has three dimensions: disciplinary core ideas (content), scientific and engineering practices, and cross-cutting concepts. Currently, most state and district standards express these dimensions as separate entities, leading to their separation in both instruction and assessment. The integration of rigorous content and application reflects how science and engineering is practiced in the real world.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts are designed to be taught in context – not in a vacuum. The NGSS encourage integration with multiple core concepts throughout each year.
  • Science concepts build coherently across K-12. The emphasis of the NGSS is a focused and coherent progression of knowledge from grade band to grade band, allowing for a dynamic process of building knowledge throughout a student’s entire K-12 scientific education.
  • The NGSS focus on a smaller set of Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) that students should know by the time they graduate from high school, focusing on deeper understanding and application of content.
  • Science and engineering are integrated into science education by raising engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry in science classroom instruction at all levels, and by emphasizing the core ideas of engineering design and technology applications.
  • The NGSS content is focused on preparing students for college and careers. The NGSS are aligned, by grade level and cognitive demand with the English Language Arts and Mathematics Common Core State Standards. This allows an opportunity both for science to be a part of a child’s comprehensive education as well as ensuring an aligned sequence of learning in all content areas. The three sets of standards overlap and are reinforcing in meaningful and substantive ways.

NGSS Design Considerations

In putting the vision of the Framework into practice, the NGSS have been written as performance expectations that depict what the student must do to show proficiency in science. Science and Engineering Practices were coupled with various components of the Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts to make up the performance expectations. The NGSS architecture was designed to provide information to teachers and curriculum and assessment developers beyond the traditional one line standard. The performance expectations are the policy equivalent of what most states have used as their standards. In order to show alignment and coherence to the Framework, the NGSS include the appropriate learning goals in the Foundation Boxes in the order in which they appeared in the Framework. They were included to ensure curriculum and assessment developers should not be required to guess the intent of the performance expectations.

Coupling Practice with Content

State standards have traditionally represented Practices and Core Ideas as two separate entities. Observations from science education researchers have indicated that these two dimensions are, at best, taught separately or the Practices are not taught at all. This is neither useful nor practical, especially given that in the real world science and engineering is always a combination of content and practice.

It is important to note that the Scientific and Engineering Practices are not teaching strategies — they are indicators of achievement as well as important learning goals in their own right. As such, the Framework and NGSS ensure the Practices are not treated as afterthoughts. Coupling practice with content gives the learning context, whereas practices alone are activities and content alone is memorization. It is through integration that science begins to make sense and allows student to apply the material. This integration will also allow students from different states and districts to be compared in a meaningful way.

The NGSS are Standards, not Curriculum

The NGSS are standards, or goals, that reflect what a student should know and be able to do— they do not dictate the manner or methods by which the standards are taught. The performance expectations are written in a way that expresses the concept and skills to be performed but still leaves curricular and instructional decisions to states, districts, school and teachers. The performance expectations do not dictate curriculum; rather, they are coherently developed to allow flexibility in the instruction of the standards. While the NGSS have a fuller architecture than traditional standards—at the request of states so they do not need to begin implementation by “unpacking” the standards—the NGSS do not dictate nor limit curriculum and instructional choices. June 2013 NGSS Release Page 3 of 3

Instructional Flexibility

Students should be evaluated based on understanding a full Disciplinary Core Idea. Multiple Scientific and Engineering Practices are represented across the performance expectations for a given Disciplinary Core Idea. Curriculum and assessment must be developed in a way that builds students’ knowledge and ability toward the performance expectations. As the NGSS are performances meant to be accomplished at the conclusion of instruction, quality instruction will have students engage in several practices throughout instruction.

Because of the coherence of the NGSS, teachers have the flexibility to arrange the performance expectations in any order within a grade level to suit the needs of states or local districts. The use of various applications of science, such as medicine, forensics, agriculture, or engineering, would nicely facilitate student interest and demonstrate how scientific principles outlined in the Framework and NGSS are applied in real world situations.

Next Steps

With the final release of the NGSS in April 2013, states will begin their individual processes to consider adoption. The lead states are under no obligation to adopt, only to seriously consider adoption. There is no set timeline for adoption or implementation. As with all K-12 educational standards, the decision to adopt by any given state is voluntary.