September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

NGSS for Middle Grades: Tips for Implementation – Step 1, Don’t Rush

Posted: Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

by Jill Grace and Marian Murphy-Shaw

Since April 2013 when the national version of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) went public, California has been working at a steady pace to move from lead contributing state to active implementation. CSTA members and other readers of California Classroom Science may be the best informed educators in the state on NGSS at this time. This article is intended to aid middle grade teachers in communicating up-to-date information to your colleagues in science education and the educational leaders you work with.

The number one point which science education leaders, the California Department of Education (CDE), professional learning providers, and the NGSS Achieve group are all making is not to rush, there is no hurry, that 2016-17 is the probable target for full implementation. As with Common Core implementation, a sequence of events, resource preparation, policies, and teacher awareness and transition support will all occur over the next few years. Now that you can breathe again, here is a rundown of common questions and next steps to consider as you start the work towards toward NGSS implementation. 

Be a resource

You can help at your school and district by sharing information about public input events such as the statewide focus groups scheduled for this winter to inform the California science curriculum framework process. The dates, times and locations are all at: Subscribe to CDE’s NGSS bulk email list by sending a blank e-mail to Bookmark CSTA’s NGSS page and CDE’s NGSS page. CDE has created a comprehensive NGSS FAQ page that will be updated in the new year as information is compiled. In addition, you can encourage your colleagues to become CSTA members – decisions are best made when colleagues are professionally active and well informed.

Course work and credentialing

Science teachers frequently ask about course work and credentialing. Since we are not expecting a new California science curriculum framework until January 2016 (click here for a draft curriculum framework development timeline), you can take your time knowing that both the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and the CDE are already examining the implications of NGSS on both and work is underway to align credentialing, course sequences, and the new California science curriculum framework. Rest assured, the vast majority of teachers in the state will experience no credentialing issues and for those wanting to augment their content knowledge, local universities, county offices of education, and groups like CSTA, the California Science Project, and K-12 Alliance are planning professional development opportunities to help. We will keep you informed as these come up and post them on our event calendar (Category: NGSS PD). (The CDE and CTC created a guidance document to assist teachers, administrators, and districts to determine which authorizations are eligible to teach the preferred integrated learning progressions model – more on that below. This guidance document can be viewed here).

Two learning progressions for middle school

On November 6, 2013, the State Board of Education directed the Science Expert Panel (SEP) to reexamine the learning progressions for grades 6-8 and they will begin work this week. Since 1998, grades 6-8 science in California has had an “integrated-lite” design that described life, earth, and physical science content for each grade. As a result, the grade-level topics that were the emphasis for each year became areas of expertise for many middle grades teachers. However, the learning progressions design of NGSS, like that of Common Core mathematics and language arts, has an intentional sequence of science understanding being developed over time and across disciplines. Thus, although this question of how to assign the performance expectations is specific to middle grades, there are certainly implications for students coming up from K-5 and going into 9-12 This is another reason to not rush implementation, but instead to examine the NGSS design and begin to think about what students exiting K-8 will need to have in their science experiences prior to high school.

The CDE Professional Learning Support Division was helpful in summarizing major points about the State Board’s middle grades decision for California Classroom Science and why two middle grades learning progressions were supported. The State Board of Education and Superintendent Torlakson responded to the CDE NGSS survey report summing up about 1,300 responses from educators across California into three categories:

  • those worried about the overall effort and need for support for, and more information about: professional learning, assessment, and instructional materials to implement NGSS;
  • those concerned about being better able to serve students in their area of content proficiency and;
  • those who felt that adding new content at the same time as overhauling science standards was beyond local district and teacher capacity.

The State Board noted the widespread acceptance and excitement for the integrated learning progression as what they and the State Superintendent could recommend as “the preferred model”. This learning progression was developed to best serve the development of a cohesive flow of learning from grades K-5, through 6-8, and into high school. This clarity of direction is also to guide publishers in developing instructional materials for K-8 that are focused, high quality, and prepare students equitably for high school even if they change schools. Careful attention to science and Common Core math alignment is also a feature of preferred integrated learning progression.

Some school districts feel they do not have the capacity to incorporate truly integrated science and new science standards at once. This led to the SEP being reconvened to provide an alternative 6-8 learning progression that schools will able to consider using as soon as it is complete, no further State Board of Education action is necessary. At present, the CDE estimates the alternate learning progression will be available in March 2014 at the soonest, though specifics still need to be determined.

For high school it was noted by CDE that courses and sequences will be local decisions. This is to allow for coordination with STEM, CTE, and other projects, programs, and resources districts and schools choose to use to support their students and teachers.


Questions around the 8th grade science assessment are also common – particularly the question of whether a single middle school assessment or two assessments (one for each learning progression) will be designed. As the assessment used with Common Core, the new science assessment might be built using an integrated sequence with the learning progressions in mind in order to inform future instruction, yet another reason to avoid rushing into any decisions. At this stage there is not much to know about any national assessment development. The National Research Council is currently writing a framework for assessment. We do not know if or who might develop a multi-state assessment like those developed for the Common Core by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. What we do know is that the grades 5, 8, 10 California Standards Tests remain in place for spring 2014, and will remain in place until new assessments are developed or additional legislative action is taken, so teachers at these grade levels should continue with their current instruction. (Current federal regulations, ESEA, require the state to test science at least once in grades 6-9.) For more information on assessment visit CSTA’s state testing webpage.

Tentative roll-out

Full implementation of NGSS for California is planned to occur over several years and in the context of a continuous learning process.

The official timeline is currently being developed by the CDE. However, here is what we know so far:

  • Awareness phase (introduce NGSS, establish collaborations, planning of systems implementation): 2013-15
  • Curriculum focus groups: winter 2014
  • California curriculum framework development: January 2014-November 2015 (pending State Board approval of the timeline)
  • California framework public review periods: June-July 2015 and October-November 2015 (pending State Board approval of the timeline)
  • California curriculum framework adoption by State Board of Education: January 2016
  • Instructional materials adoption: 2017-2018
  • Plans for transition, development of curriculum materials, assessment development, and implementation will likely take place throughout 2014-2017. We do not expect full implementation until the 2016-17 school year.

What you can do now

Start becoming familiar with the Science and Engineering Practices (Appendix F)

These are:

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and information and computer technology
  • Developing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

These practices parallel the Common Core Math Practices and Anchor Standards, and support working toward higher levels of Depth of Knowledge (DOK). Tweaking your current curriculum to align toward these practices will allow you to test drive some of these shifts before you begin teaching new content standards.

As you help students prepare for the CSTs you can also consider looking at how to raise the DOK level and use evidence-based student outcomes with the current content. Guiding students to deeper understanding will not only help them on the science CSTs, it will afford you the opportunity to try out some new strategies. Simple shifts such as having students make use of evidence to support claims in writing or speaking, making labs more open ended, embedding more active engagement into lessons, letting students design and create, giving students the opportunity to practice linking concepts together, etc., will have the dual effect of supporting the goals of Common Core and give you practice with the Science and Engineering Practices.

In some cases you may want to look at your grade level content – a first glance – and see what will still be in your grade going forward. That way if you do start building any new units, you can do it around content (Disciplinary Core Ideas) that will still be in your grade level when we transition. With this in mind, however, it is prudent to hold off on radically shifting content or instruction until the California science curriculum framework is completed (in January 2016). This curriculum framework will provide guidance and instructional suggestions… teachers aren’t expected to make this up on their own!

Resources that can get you started

Wait for more information on the assessment

Finally, middle schools and districts may want to hold off on discussions about which learning progression best suits their community until more is known about assessments. Knowing the direction the assessments will take may help inform that decision.

Rest assured CSTA is here for you! We are working on targeting professional development to support you in this transition. Furthermore, if you would like to stay connected to other middle school teachers across the state, consider joining our California middle school science teacher Facebook group. The vision of NGSS is about quality science with integration of practices, cross-cutting concepts, and core disciplinary ideas – we have the luxury in science education of having a large, informed community of science education experts that will also help provide resources to teachers.  CSTA members will be well supported.

Jill Grace teaches 7th grade science at Palos Verdes Intermediate School and is the Middle School/Jr. High Director for CSTA.

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s secretary and chair of CSTA’s Legislative Oversight Committee.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

4 Responses

  1. The author cites claims by the school board that there is widespread acceptance and excitement for the integrated learning progression. Is this the major reason that the integrated learning progression is referred to as the preferred progression? If so is there clear documentation and data that supports the claim that there is widespread excitement and acceptance for the integrated progression among California middle school teachers? If there are other reasons the integrated learning progression is labeled preferred who is making those claims and what evidence exists to back them up?

  2. Thanks for commenting John.

    The claims are based on multiple days of state board of education meetings, all archived on the web to view. I wish we had the space to delve into all of that, as well as the many sessions at the CSTA Science Education Conference where we heard from the CA NGSS state-team which included middle school teachers, developers of the NGSS from Achieve, and the guiding Framework for K-12 Science Education (
    from the National Research Council about the extensive understanding we now have in education. The data resides within all of those sources – please do take a look at the Framework. It does far better than I can at addressing your questions. Summarizing years of research for an article is a daunting thing.

    CSTA and CDE reviewed, and the board meeting recorded, the input from middle grade teachers across CA. It was important to CSTA to relay that voice in the state board meetings.

    As a former 8th grade science teacher myself I understand many of the concerns expressed by teachers and found I had some serious consideration and learning to do over the last few years in light of what we now know about middle grade, and other, learners and science education.

    I sincerely wish you the best and thank you for your post,

  3. The last item on the list of implementation is “development of curriculum materials, assessment development.” No where is there mention of teaching students. How long are we going to continue doing this in education (and going along with it)? If what you propose is possible, practical and better–clearly discussing theory and teaching theory to teachers before anyone makes a single lesson is backwards. It hasn’t succeeded in the past, isn’t likely to succeed now or ever. With the sole exception of Quantum Physics, theory has always followed practical implementation. Always.
    The alternative is 1500 years of Aristotelian theory of gravity while the obvious reality was ignored.
    If a great science teacher taught a group of students and those students learned a lot, made great imaginative projects and amazing labs; and these results were compared with a committee generated pile of theory, ‘awareness phase,’ ‘focus groups’ yada-yada-yada with absolutely no implementation; the committee stuff would prevail. Why? Because that is the way we continue to do things. Obviously there’s great science education out there, but we spend endless amounts of time, effort, money with this well meaning overly complicated stuff. There’s a lot in NGSS that I like, the implementation so far is so bizarrely overcomplicated I’m wondering if this isn’t an elaborate ruse. It’s more a very weird puzzle than a set of instructions.
    I would like to suggest that no one be allowed to spend another minute of teachers’ time until they’ve taught real students with real lessons and documented the results. It’s not like it’s hard to find students who wouldn’t benefit from more learning experiences.
    I’m curious, is this just cranky nonsense? Or are a lot of us annoyed by how this is being done?

  4. Hi Will,
    Thanks for your comment! I am a teacher too, and like you, I have implementation concerns and I’m learning a lot about the political process in rolling out new standards. You are correct that NGSS isn’t a set of instructions – those are coming and I encourage you to be a part of the process (especially given your passion for the nature of science). Teachers are needed for the development of the curriculum frameworks, information can be found at: The deadline to apply is April 16th.

    As an aside, NGSS is based on a large body research of how kids learn science, which included observing students learning science in classrooms with the everyday challenges we all face. It doesn’t precede the classroom instruction, but is derived from it. We have a good opportunity as teachers to be invested in the process to make sure it goes well and to adequately support teachers in the process. I am grateful you are reading California Classroom Science, because no doubt that CSTA and it’s partners are working hard on that.

Leave a Reply


California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.