Next Generation Science Standards: Lost in Space?

Please note (April 11, 2013): The following blog post was written after reading the first draft of the Next Generation Science Standards last year. I have since been involved in multiple feedback sessions, and it has been gratifying to see how our feedback has been used in the final standards–I am now quite supportive of them.

May 2012 Blog Post: I had high hopes for the national Next Generation Science Standards. Still do. Excitement around a strong set of science standards could guide teaching and learning, promote collaboration, and lead to reasonable assessment. However, after spending time reviewing them and talking with colleagues, my concerns are growing greater all the time. What am I worried about? Well here are my three primary issues:

1. Standards at every level, from kindergarten on, include “assessment boundaries.” Does the inclusion of these assessment boundaries in national standards imply large scale assessments? Does adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards by a state imply any kind of standardized test adoption? If the Common Core State Standards are any precedent, this may well be the case.

In addition, the assessment boundaries themselves leave me concerned. For example, the Kindergarten Weather Standard states that histograms and line graphs are not included in the assessments. That is supposed to reassure me? So what exactly are these kindergarten science assessments going to look like? At least the assessment boundary states that kindergarteners are “not expected to forecast weather.” Well, thank goodness—now I know not to head over to the primary school when I want to know if it is going to be sunny over the weekend.

2. There seems to be significantly more material included in the Next Generation Science Standards than what we can reasonably teach. There should be a focus on depth, as opposed to breadth. This was one of the great hopes for this set of standards, but this hope does not seem to have been realized. I compared the Next Generation high school life science standards to our current Washington state biology standards. I actually like our current state standards, for the most part, and it seems to me that our state standards represent more than what can reasonably be taught in a year, but not that much more. The Next Generation high school life science standards, however, go far beyond a year’s worth of teaching and learning. Add in the Engineering standards, and when is this all supposed to happen?

For example, a high school space science standard reads, “Construct explanations from evidence about how the stability and structure of the sun change over its lifetime at time scales that are the short (solar flares), medium (the hot spot cycle), and long (changes over its 10-billion-year lifetime). Evidence for long-term changes includes the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram. Assessment Boundary: Mathematical representations, which include Kepler’s Laws, should not deal with more than two bodies.” These are not standards we currently teach in my high school, and I don’t think my high school is alone in this. This is great for an astronomy class, but is this really something we need EVERY student who graduates from high school to be able to do? We need to teach fewer topics, but teach those topics well. The Next Generation Science Standards seem to go far beyond what is required for basic scientific literacy.

3. Practices, disciplinary core ideas, and cross cutting concepts are integrated into each performance expectation. I truly believe these should be integrated in the classroom, but it seems arbitrary which practice the standards writers linked with which disciplinary core idea. For example, photosynthesis is to be taught with modeling, the influence of group behavior on survival is to be taught with scientific literature, and biodiversity is to be taught through investigation. This provides no pedagogical or assessment flexibility for teachers, districts, or even states.

In addition, because the writers seemed obligated to write a single sentence for each performance expectation which included all three aspects, the writing is often stilted and overly complex. A high school engineering standard states, “Ask questions and collect information to quantify the scope and impacts of a major global problem on local communities and find evidence of possible causes by breaking the problem down into parts and investigating the mechanisms that may contribute to each part.” What, they couldn’t even throw in a semi-colon to break that performance expectation up a bit? A life science standard similarly just goes on and on: “Use a model to describe the role of cellular division and differentiation to produce and maintain complex organisms composed of organ systems and tissue subsystems that work together to meet the needs of the entire organism.” The standards also include many clarification statements, but if a clarification statement is necessary, why not just rewrite the standard?

So would YOU like to provide some feedback on these standards? Click here and help influence the national Next Generation Science Standards! Feedback is accepted on this standards draft through this Thursday, May 31, and there will be another opportunity for feedback later this year.

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5 Comments

  1. I hope they listen to the feedback. I would not like to see testing start at kindergarten! I also don’t want to see kids scared away from becoming scientifically literate because these standards are too overly complex and too wieldy. I’m quite happy with our power standards!

    Reply
  2. I’m really wondering about that kindergarten assessment issue. The standards never actually said there would be kindergarten assessments, but they did provide “assesssment boundaries” for kindergarten, which implies there might be.

    My main concern is actually being asked to teach too much in terms of content. Also, we need standards that clear and readable, not standards that require “clarification statements” to understand!

    Reply
  3. Very good points/questions- thanks for this post!

    Regarding #1 (assessments), my understanding is that these standards are supposed to be primarily for the purposes of assessment. Seems like the scale is up in the air, but at the classroom level it could be as simple as having students take a performance-based exam in which they demonstrate their understanding. The NRC is actually working on a report regarding science assessments now, it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with. I think what form the assessments take is a big, unsolved problem.

    Regarding #2 (depth v. breadth), I agree… I think they haven’t pared down the scope enough to meet the stated goal of solving the “too much breadth” problem. Adding all that engineering content is really causing issues from this angle.

    Regarding #3 (tortured language and arbitrary linking of CCCs, DCIs, and Practices), I also agree that in many places the writing still needs a lot of help.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the standards are not supposed to dictate specific classroom level pedagogy or even assessment… Dr. Pruitt from Achieve and others have said that in a classroom, the intent is not to arbitrarily cherry pick single practices, but to carry out full investigations that include many of the practices. It’s just for the purposes of summative assessment that you might use the exact combination in the NGSS. So perhaps an end of course exam, a unit test, or some new form of large-scale assessment, if that’s the direction things go.

    Reply
  4. Want to increase interest in science? How about this for a crazy idea? Instead of spending the millions upon millions of dollars to develop science standards that few classroom teachers have time or inclination to understand or incorporate, and then spend millions upon millions more to have students try to pass tests based on those standards; how about divvying up that money and send all kids on field trips. Send them to the outdoors. Send them to science museums. Send them to airplane factories.

    I am of an age where I can easily trace my interest in science to yearly assemblies where NASA sent folks to show the kiddies how one drop of gasoline fully mixed with one drop of liquid oxygen could blow the lid off a great big bottle and make the wee ones dream of going to the moon.

    Find me a scientist, engineer, or even a layperson who, as a child got interested in science because the government told them they had to pass a test, and I’ll show you Josef Mengele.
    Whew I feel better.
    Your pal Todd

    Reply
  5. kelly

     /  April 13, 2013

    Our country is filled to the brim with excellent teachers who devote their lives and personal money to their classrooms! The problem with our education system is holding students accountable for learning. I am a high school teacher and most Americans (especially politicians) would be absolutely shocked to teach high school classes! Many students simply DO NOT CARE if they learn or not, they DO NOT CARE if they graduate or not. No one in our society (not even their own parents) holds them accountable for NOT LEARNING,NOT TRYING, NOT CARING! One part of education is TEACHING (teacher’s part), but the other part it LEARNING (student’s part). I have spent hours upon hours preparing lessons and literally thousands of my own dollars in a school year to only have students sit there and stare at the floor, etc. Other cultures do not tolerate this behavior. Everyone goes on and on about how advanced the Chinese education system is. Have we forgotten that the “kids who stare at the floor” are sent to the farm and their education is taken from them? Chinese do not play around. They do not tolerate students who do not care if they learn or not. They send them to the farm to work. I have students who tell me they are just “hanging” out in the school building until they turn 18 so that their mama get’s her check from the government. They have told me that they do not plan to graduate. Instead, they sit in the school, stare at the floor, learn absolutely nothing–while an outstanding teacher is trying to teach them and they bring our test scores down across America as a result! I wish we could send these students home with a set of books and tell the family that they can “homeschool” paid for by the government, but the tax payers are no longer paying for this student to come to school, create disruptions in the building, and sit in our classrooms doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING but talking and distracting other students in our classes when they have NO DESIRE TO LEARN OR ACHIEVE ANYTHING IN LIFE BUT DRAW A CHECK FROM THE GOVERNMENT! Unfortunately test scores are getting worse because the “NEED AND DESIRE TO LEARN AND GRADUATE” is getting less and less in our country. Test scores have very little to do with the TEACHER’S ability to teach and EVERYTHING to do with the student’s DESIRE AND EFFORT to learn. This is what is being reflected in test scores today and only teachers, who have no say on what is being taught and tested, get it!

    Reply

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