January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Content Standards: Common Core and NGSS – A High School Teacher’s Perspective

Posted: Monday, June 3rd, 2013

by Jeff Orlinsky

In 1997 I attended the open hearings of the California Content Standards in Science.  The hearings were about developing the standards that would be used as part of the student assessment system.  I would venture a guess that at that time, no one would have anticipated how the panel’s decisions would impact curriculum and instruction in the science classroom.  This article is not about the debate or the benefits of standards, it is about the current changes occurring in science education, and how you as a CSTA member and a science classroom teacher, need to be an active participant, not a bystander.

Here is a little history.  At first, classroom teachers were largely unaware of the content standards.  Districts slowly adopted the standards and they became part of the curriculum objectives but curriculum and instruction in science classrooms did not change until the first tests in science started.  Soon, however, it became evident that students’ scores on science tests comprised about 15% of the Academic Performance Index or API.  As a result, science classrooms started to modify their curriculum to better match the student assessment.

In 2001, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Federal Law was passed.  As with the content standards, curriculum and instruction did not adjust quickly.  However, after several years of implementation, there was a drastic change in science instruction and curriculum.  The AYP, (Annual Yearly Progress), and Program Improvement components of the NCLB have narrowed our curriculum and severely limited our instructional time when it comes to hands-on laboratory lessons.

Fast forward to 2009, when the National Governor’s Association hired the nonprofit company, Student Achievement Partners, to create an updated set of curriculum and instructional standards for mathematics and English, known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Released in June 2010 and subsequently adopted by California later that year, implementation has already begun and by 2014-15 California will assess student achievement of the new standards. Districts and schools are not waiting for the new assessments, rather, they have already begun to change their curriculum and instruction in ELA and mathematics.  Once again, science teachers are waiting, however we already know we will be called upon to incorporate more ELA and math skills into our curriculum.  The question science teachers will be asking is, where do these additional standards go in my already crowded curriculum?

Finally, in July 2010, the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science began the process of writing new science content standards known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The final standards were released in April 2013.  The NGSS provide the framework for individual states to adopt a new set of standards that focus on science, technology, engineering, and content in Earth, Biology, Physics and Chemistry.  CSTA has been in the forefront on this issue.

A Possible Conflict?

The CCSS may look like math and ELA standards, but classrooms of all disciplines will be impacted.  I am not sure how they will affect our current science curriculum and instruction, but I am anticipating a major change.  In July of 2013, the State Board of Education will be presented with the option to adopt a new set of science content standards based on the NGSS (the decision will need to be made no later than November 30, 2013). I am concerned that this may present a new conflict in the science classroom, as I expect to see implementation of the NGSS emphasize a hands-on approach, and the implementation of the CCSS for English/Language Arts and Literacy in Science focus on reading. (Editor’s note: the NGSS include reference to areas of overlap with the CCSS.) I feel that these two different types of content standards will be harder for elementary and middle school teachers than for high school teachers.  In all cases, we will be forced to add more to our overcrowded curriculum, and forced to decide what content will be cut.

What We Need to Do: An Opportunity for Transformation.

We can no longer wait for new California NGSS-based content standards to be presented to us.  We must step out of the classroom and become experts in the CCSS and the NGSS-California Science Standards.  We will have to do it ourselves.  We have to understand these standards and how they will affect our curriculum and instruction.  In 1997, many teachers thought the standards movement was a phase, and that it would not last long.  In 2009-10 we thought NCLB would be re-written, and it has not changed.  We cannot be passive by-standers; we must take an active role.  We also have to bring everyone in the science department along.  The more we understand the NGSS and Common Core the easier our transition will be.

Here are recommended steps to help you involve yourself in the process and increase your capacity in CCSS and NGSS:

  1. Join CSTA – Your membership will gain you access to information and representation. If you are already a member, thank you and be sure to check that your email is up-to-date and that you set-up to receive email from CSTA.
  2. Read the Next Generation Science Standards and the Framework for K-12 Science Education.
  3. Visit and review the resources on CSTA’s NGSS webpage.
  4. Listen to the State Board Meeting on July 10 when the new California Science Standards will be presented (the meetings are broadcast live on-line) or attend in person (in Sacramento).
  5. Attend webinars and view archives of webinars hosted by NSTA.
  6. Attend the 2013 California Science Education Conference, which will feature a wealth of programming around Common Core and NGSS/California Science Education Standards.

Written by Jeff Orlinsky

Jeff Orlinsky

Jeff Orlinsky teaches science at Warren High School and is CSTA’s High School Director.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Jeff
    As I think about how to start to infuse the NGSS material into my department’s curriculum, everyone wants to know where to begin. Looking at my content area (life science) many of the DCI are already in our old standards. Has CSTA prepared a side by side comparison of the DCI & our old standards? This document would be helpful to show the states science teachers what is different and what is similar.
    Is anyone working on this for CSTA or CDOE?
    Thanks

  2. Several CSTA members have asked if there is a chart which maps out how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) align with our current state science standards. While we know that some folks have participated in this sort of process, we have purposefully not released such a document. We know that a document like this might be comforting to some, yet there is a broader concern that people will simply look at a chart and decide that not much has changed so not much must change. This is not the message or intent of the proposed new standards. Should NGSS be adopted by the State Board of Education, we will be in for some major changes. As uncomfortable as change might be, change isn’t always a bad thing! Science content and skills are meaningfully linked, students will be expected to demonstrate greater depth of understanding, and engineering practices are embedded into the science classroom.
    We hope that teachers will look closely at the performance expectations for their grade level and spend time thinking about what they imply for teaching and learning. This is not a time to simply rearrange our existing science lessons and shoe-horn them into the NGSS landscape (a chart which shows where existing standards map onto NGSS might promote that sort of thinking). This is a time for us to rethink how we engage students in critically thinking and learning science. We know you have existing lessons in your file cabinet or computer that will fit beautifully into the NGSS classroom, but this is also the time to look forward and develop new lessons for the next generation of scientists.

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