Responding to NGSS Critiques – Anticipating the Final Release
by Laura Henriques
As you likely know, the final version of the Next Generation Science Standards will be released at the end of this month. The timeline for the adoption of new science standards in California is based on that release date. With the new standards not yet finalized and released, it is a bit premature for CSTA to take a public position on the standards. It is not too early, however, to respond to some comments and concerns voiced in the press. Two in particular are worth noting here as they contradict each other and force us to consider what is important for California students to understand and be able to do. The Fordham Report and an editorial in Science by Janet Coffey and Bruce Alberts level opposing criticism at the second public draft of the standards.
In their response to the second draft of Next Generation Science Standards, the authors of the Fordham Report discuss two overarching concerns. The first is a criticism of the lack of content and the second is disagreement with the linkages between the engineering/scientific practices and content as found in the performance expectations. Throughout the 71 page report, Fordham Report authors lament specific content areas that are underemphasized or missing. They recommend areas in each of the disciplines that ought to be added so that students have a rigorous, quantitatively based science experience. They are not opposed to students doing labs – “Science cannot be taught effectively without carefully designed and content-matched laboratory and field activities to augment textual materials” (p.64), yet they do not like the fact that these same practices are linked to the performance expectations. It seems as if the authors would prefer to have the practices decoupled from the content, much the way our current state standards have Investigation & Experimentation standards separate from content standards. As we have seen, decoupling the practices and content results in assessments that focus on the easier to assess content without finding out if students can actually do science. The Fordham authors, in their concern about assessment boundaries accurately note that “Lesson planners and already burdened teachers are unlikely to occupy themselves assiduously with material that will never be tested” (P14). While this quote was in reference to assessment boundaries, the upper limit required for all students, the sentiment is true when looking at the doing of science. If the practices are not explicitly linked to content via performance expectations it is very unlikely that assessments will hold students (and therefore teachers and schools) responsible for engaging in the practices of science/engineering.
In contrast, Coffey and Alberts appreciate the possibilities that the practice/content linkages allows but they are concerned with the amount of content that the draft includes. Coffey and Alberts see great potential in coupling the practices with content. The “emphasis on science and engineering practices could lay the groundwork for productive shifts toward helping students understand how science helps us make sense of the natural world, instead of just what science has learned” (p. 489). They are well aware of the assessment challenges this creates and urge the states/nation to pay careful attention to their development. Their bigger concern lies in the sheer amount of content incorporated into the second draft of NGSS. They were pleased to see the intent of NGSS to be aligned with the Framework and to focus more deeply on fewer concepts. What they found in the second draft was too much content, which would force more superficial, than deep, learning.
At the heart of the debate is what and how we want students to learn and engage in science. CSTA supports standards which actively involve all students in learning the content of science. We concur with the Framework’s vision of science education. “The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology” (NRC,. 2012, p. 1). A set of standards that engages students in academically rigorous content and performance is necessary for California. Like Coffey and Alberts, we support science/engineering practices being linked to content knowledge and the direction that this will drive instruction and assessment. Certainly there is work to be done before we get there but it is work we anxiously await as it will move California’s schools and students in a direction that will help create students ready for employment, citizenship, and lifelong learning.
It will be interesting to see which direction the authors move in response to the more than 10,000 comments received on the second draft. Like all of you, we are eager to see the final draft of the Next Generation Science Standards!
Coffey, J. & Alberts, B. (2013). Improving education standards. Science 1 February 2013: Vol. 339 no. 6119 p. 489. DOI: 10.1126/science.1225590 Available online at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6119/489.full.
Gross, P., Buttrey, D., Goodenough, U., Koertge, N., Lerner, L.S., Schwartz, M., Schwartz, R. , Schmidt, W.H., Wilson, W.S. (2013). Commentary & Feedback on Draft II of the Next Generation Science Standards. Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Available online at http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/commentary-feedback-on-draft-II-of-the-next-generation-science-standards.html
National Research Council. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2012. Available online at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13165.
Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president-elect of CSTA.