January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Facts & Myths Regarding Next Generation Science Standards in California

Posted: Monday, July 1st, 2013

by Laura Henriques 

As I take over my new post as CSTA President, I realize there is still lots of misinformation about the Next Generation Science Standards. In this issue, I hope to clarify some misunderstandings and help you better understand California’s timeline. As teachers we often start instruction with a pre-assessment, so I figured I would do the same here.

Fact or Myth? California adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in April 2013.

Fact or Myth? California educators have been involved in reviewing the standards and providing feedback to the author team, the Department of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Fact or Myth? If adopted, NGSS for California represents the curriculum for science instruction in California.

Fact or Myth? If adopted, you will need to implement NGSS for the 2013-2014 school year.

Fact or Myth? California will need to write a Science Curriculum Framework based on NGSS for California (assuming the standards are adopted).

Fact or Myth? The grade 6-8 standards represent three courses in earth, life and physical sciences, sort of like what we have now.

Fact or Myth?  The grade 9-12 standards represent the courses that will be offered in high schools.

How well did you do? Read on to find out.

1. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were adopted in April 2013: MYTH

Don’t feel bad if you missed this one, lots of people believe that California has already adopted NGSS. Achieve, the group that spearheaded the writing of NGSS, considered feedback from thousands of reviewers across the United States and incorporated changes into the final version of the Next Generation Science Standards, released on April 9, 2013. California is one of the Lead States in the NGSS process, which means that as a state we also provided feedback. California has not yet adopted NGSS.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Tom Torlakson released his recommended science standards to be presented to the State Board of Education (SBE) at their July 10, 2013 meeting. His recommendation is that the SBE approve his recommended “Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools, K-12”. These are essentially the NGSS that were released by Achieve in April, with a few modifications made by California to the clarifying statements and an assignment of the middle school standards to specific grades. The Board must make a decision related to the adoption of these new standards before or during their November 6-7, 2013 meeting. Only then will be know where or not California adopts NGSS.  You can watch all SBE meetings online via live webcast.

2. California educators have been involved in reviewing the standards and providing feedback to the author team, the Department of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction: FACT

California educators and other state stakeholders provided feedback through a variety of mechanisms. Hundreds of educators participated in focus groups and group review sessions around the state, with hundreds of us providing feedback directly to Achieve during the public review process for the first and second drafts of the standards. Members of the CSTA leadership and county office personnel hosted numerous meetings to aid that process. After the final version of the standards was released in April, the State Board of Education hosted three town-hall meetings (one was a webcast) to solicit input from interested parties. CSTA also conducted a survey of its membership. This information has been shared with the Department of Education. The superintendent’s Science Expert Panel, made up of 27 California educator, scientist, and non-educator experts, carefully reviewed the standards and their appropriateness for California students.

3. If adopted, NGSS represents the curriculum for science instruction in California: MYTH

This is one of the biggest misconceptions folks have about NGSS. The standards, or performance expectations, indicate what kids are able to do. They tell us nothing about how we teach or plan instruction to help students achieve that level of performance. NGSS authors go to great pains to point out that the document is not curriculum, but as educators we all want to read the document and infer what instruction looks like. The Science Framework and curriculum come next.

4. If adopted, you will need to implement NGSS for the 2013-2014 school year: MYTH

The absolute earliest date that NGSS might be adopted is July 2013. However, it is probably more realistic to assume that the State Board of Education won’t decide anything until September or November. The adoption of new standards sets in motion the next steps (see #5). Implementation in classrooms will not be expected until 2014-2015 at the very earliest.

5. California will need to write a Science Curriculum Framework based on NGSS (assuming the standards are adopted): FACT

Just as many people believe that NGSS has already been adopted, some people also believe that we will simply use the K-12 Framework for Science Education that served as the basis for NGSS. Not true! California will need to write a curriculum framework that will help teachers implement the new standards adopted by the board in their own classrooms. While the dates for framework development, implementation and assessment are not final (legislation is still pending), the order in which events transpire will transpire is:

  1. Adoption of new standards
  2. Write a curriculum framework for California based on the new standards
  3. Curriculum development, professional development, and implementation
  4. State assessments based on new standards

The timeline has too many variables to give actual dates for these tasks and legislation regarding assessment, curriculum framework, and professional development is currently working its way through the legislature. The timeline developed by CDE offers general dates for implementation. The CSTA NGSS website provides updated information as well.

6. The grade 6-8 standards represent three courses in earth, life and physical sciences, sort of like what we have now: MYTH

The grade 6-8 standards in NGSS represent the combined content and skills to be mastered by the end of middle school. As released by Achieve, the 6-8th grade standards were not assigned to particular grade levels. In his recommendation, SPI Torlakson offered distinct Grade 6, 7, and 8 standards (extrapolated from the combined Grade 6-8 performance expectations). His recommendation takes into account developmental appropriateness, alignment with math Common Core and alignment with grades K-5 science standards which precede.

7. The grade 9-12 standards represent the courses that will be offered in high schools: MYTH

This has been a major source of confusion and concern for high school teachers. The standards in NGSS represent what all students should know when they leave high school. By the end of that time, kids should have had the opportunity to master the standards outlined in NGSS. If you teach a high school chemistry class or physics class you will likely teach more than what is included in the Physical Science Standards of NGSS. That’s okay and to be expected. NGSS is not curriculum; in other words, teachers should not look at NGSS and assume that the list is all-inclusive for what a course might include, especially for high school physics or chemistry.

California is a K-8 adoption state so the SPI needed to make recommendations for where the grade 6-8 standards will be taught. This is not the case for high school. As a result, the curriculum framework writers and local districts will need to determine how the grade 9-12 standards get addressed. What is important to remember is that NGSS represents the science all students should learn.

Please stay abreast of the process. Continue to visit the CDE’s NGSS website or the CSTA NGSS website. If you are in the Sacramento area and feel so inclined, attend the State Board of Education meeting on July 10-11. If you are not in the area you are invited to submit written comments via email (sbe@cde.ca.gov) to the SBE with the item number clearly marked in the subject line. In order to ensure that comments are received by board members in advance of the meeting, materials must be received by 12:00 p.m. on the Monday July 8.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and past-president of CSTA. She serves as chair of CSTA’s Nominating Committee and is a co-chair of the NGSS Committee.

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Jessica Sawko

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