The Impact of Next Generation Science Standards

By Becky Stewart, Ted Willard, & Ken A. Wesson

The United States is facing a crisis in science and math achievement. In 1994, 31 percent of all science and engi­neering master’s degrees and 41 percent of all science and engineering doctoral degrees were conferred to foreign stu­dents, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That percentage has since declined slightly: According to the National Science Foundation, 25 percent of graduate students in science and engineering were in the United States on temporary visas in 2006. Further, results from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assess­ment reveal that the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math out of 34 countries.

In response, President Barack Obama announced the “Educate to Innovate” campaign to encour­age teachers in science, technol­ogy, engineering, and math—the STEM fields—to use more interac­tive teaching methods to increase student engagement and eventu­ally produce more homegrown graduates in these fields.

The Next Generation Sci­ence Standards (NGSS), which have just undergone their first public review, are slated for final release in late 2012 or early 2013. The standards are based on A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, the first idea of which is to provide “a vision for education in the sciences and engineering in which students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields.”

Twenty-six states are involved in the development of the NGSS and will consider adopting them once they are completed. Many other states have also expressed an inter­est in the standards, so it seems quite likely that the NGSS will form the basis for what a majority of students in the United States study in science.

In addition to life science, earth and space science, and physical sci­ence, the NGSS include technology, engineering, and the application of science as a fourth content area. Specifically, the NGSS have a strong focus on scientific and engineer­ing practices, which are combined with core disciplinary ideas to form performance expectations. These performance expectations describe the outcomes that would be assessed after instruction.

Also outlined in the NGSS is that students will be expected to under­stand important ideas about engi­neering design such as knowing that “a solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it.” They also will be expected to under­stand links among engineering, technology, science, and society.

Although the standards do not prescribe how students should learn these ideas, educators will need to think carefully about how to address them in the K-12 curriculum.

In the inaugural issue of The STEM Classroom, published by the National Science Teachers Associa­tion, STEM education was defined as “a way to combine many related disciplines—currently viewed by students and society as indepen­dent subjects with little overlap—into a single, integrated program that emphasizes the interdepen­dences among the four disciplines and their applications to everyday life.” This definition, and its imple­mentation in schools, is the linch­pin of an effective response to the NGSS.

To learn more about the NGSS, administrators could begin by downloading and reading A Frame­work for K-12 Science Education, which is available online as a free PDF from the National Academies Press. Elementary school adminis­trators may want to encourage their staffs to join professional organiza­tions devoted to science education as a means to increase their expo­sure to professional development opportunities.

If the NGSS are adopted by all 50 states, the science required in elementary schools will undoubt­edly increase. The second draft of the NGSS will be available for public comment in late fall 2012, and all administrators should read the draft carefully and consider comment­ing. The public review process is an important part of the creation of the NGSS.

Teaching specific skills and con­cepts in science, technology, engi­neering and mathematics indepen­dent of the opportunities to learn how they are connected to one another and to other disciplines does a disservice both to the learn­er and to the knowledge at stake.

The National Science Teachers Association and many other profes­sional organizations are marshal­ling their resources around this integrated whole to help teachers and administrators. The end result will be a more robust educational environment for all students.

Becky Stewart
Editor, The STEM Classroom,
National Science Teachers Association
Arlington, Virginia

Ted Willard
Program Director
National Science Teachers Association
Arlington, Virginia

Ken A. Wesson
Educational Consultant,
San Jose, California


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