November 2015 – Vol. 28 No. 3

Responding to NGSS Critiques – Anticipating the Final Release

Posted: Friday, March 1st, 2013

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

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

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

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.

3 Responses

  1. My concern is not so much the content of the standards but that California will, once again, botch implementation.

    I have been in education since 1970. A number of radically new subjects and approaches have been imposed on elementary level teachers during those decades with the blithe assumption that elementary teachers know enough to teach practically anything with little or no preparation.

    Specific subjects include Spanish, Music, ESL, Chemistry, and Statistics.

    Somewhat more care was given to changes in approach: diagnostic teaching, individualized instruction, learning stations, cooperative learning, the Madeline Hunter structured lesson, Thinking Maps, journaling, and on and on.

    However, in my experience, most of these reforms in pedagogy have been badly implemented due to insufficient training, misunderstandings of their nature, emphasis on shallow compliance, and lack of follow through by administrators and resource persons responsible for the implementation.

    This time, the changes seem to be in both approach (inquiry – an approach that most teachers lack time and expertise to teach) and content (engineering!!). To do the implementation right, several weeks of summer preparation at the district level is necessary.

    What we’ll get is probably more of the usual – kind of like tossing seeds on the ground, leaving them there, doing nothing further, and wondering why they never sprout.

  2. While I applaud Dr. Henriques for attempting to write a balanced article regarding the two significant sources of national feedback on Draft #2 of NGSS, I hope the readers of this article know that the “team” who contributed to the Fordharm report includes 2 notable Californians, Richard & Martha Schwartz, who also played significant roles in the development of the current CA Science Standards and Framework.

    I am merely pointing out that the Fordham review reflects the educational as well as political biases of their authors, which should be taken into account. And the Fordham Institute also has its biases, as it has consistently given the CA Science Standards its highest ratings, in comparison to the science standards of other states.

    To be fair, it should also be noted that Dr. Alberts, co-author of the editorial “review” of the NGSS, 2nd draft, is the past-President of the National Academy of Sciences. During his tenure, he encouraged and fully supported the development of the National Science Education Standards (NSES), which many consider to be the current “national” Science Standards.

    During the development of the current CA Science Standards, Dr. Alberts, among other notable scientists and science educators, made a formal presentation to the CA Standards Commission, recommending that the NSES be used as the basis for developing the CA Science Standards. His presentation was shamefully treated by several members of that Commission, including Richard Schwartz. Unfortunately, his recommendation was totally ignored; there is very little correlation between NSES and the current CA Science Standards – or the Framework.

    I realize that this is “ancient” history to many, having occurred in the late-1990s. However, I worry that some of the same issues that were paramount then, will re-surface in the near future, as California decides what to do with the NGSS.

    Gary Nakagiri

  3. Thank you Susan and Gary for taking time to read and respond to the editorial.

    Susan – I share your concern about implementation and the need for professional development. You specifically mention the need for elementary folks to get PD. I believe that PD will be needed for all of us — teachers, administrators, teacher preparation faculty and beyond. There are several challenges ahead — first we need new standards, new curriculum, PD, and assessment . It’s a big task but one that could be net really exciting results for California students.

    Gary – I was trying to point out the criticisms that both groups levy against the standards along with the position that CSTA takes regarding science education in general, that content and practice should be intertwined. I do recognize the political agendas that different groups may bring to the table. I wrote this editorial for folks who have not been reading what NSTA, Fordham, or Coffey & Alberts have written in regards to the draft. Every group responding to the latest draft of NGSS has its own agenda (I am guessing AAPT or ACS would lament some of the physics or chemistry content that is not included). What I thought was interesting to point out was the fact that we have diametrically opposed criticism and that the stance of CSTA is more closely aligned with Coffey & Alberts. Certainly I would argue that we want kids doing science in ways that are meaningful. Too often we see science taught as a clerical work — kids simply writing notes and memorizing information that is easily looked up as opposed to doing science investigations and critically making sense of the natural world.

    There will be several opportunities for us to make our opinions heard once the final draft of NGSS is released and a recommendation is made to the State Board of Education. Please take advantage of those opportunities to let your voice and thoughts be heard.

    Laura Henriques

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Your Chance to Review the California Science Curriculum Framework Is Here

Posted: Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

by Laura Henriques

The California Science Curriculum Framework & Evaluation Criteria document is now ready for its first 60 Day Public Feedback period.! This is a critical process for the review and vetting of the document. Anyone from around the state is invited to read the document and provide feedback. CSTA encourages its members to participate in this process.

Just to be clear, the California Curriculum Framework is different from the NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education. The NRC Framework is the document which guided the development of Next Generation Science Standards. The California Curriculum Framework is the document which will help us make sense of those standards in our classrooms. Learn More…

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.

Call for Nominations for the 2016-2018 CSTA Board of Directors

Posted: Thursday, November 12th, 2015

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There is a time and energy commitment, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interesting in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

Middle School Madness Part 2: Integrated Science Versus Coordinated Science

Posted: Thursday, November 12th, 2015

by Robert Sherriff

In my last article, I compared the integrated versus discipline-specific models of teaching science in middle school. In this article, I seek to dispel some misconceptions and refine the comparison of an integrated science program with a coordinated science program.

This past summer, I was honored to participate in presenting at the two Northern California NGSS Early Implementation Institutes. I was part of a science content cadre to which I brought both my 25 years of middle school teaching experience and my knowledge of NGSS (I was on the State Science Expert Panel and was Co-chair of the Curriculum Framework Criteria Committee – CFCC). Other members of the cadre included Bob Rumer, an innovative engineering professor who helped us incorporate the Engineering Standards, and an outstanding high school science teacher, Lesley Gates, who helped provide activities and pedagogy. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

The Tree Room: A New Online Resource for Teaching Evolutionary Relationships

Posted: Thursday, November 12th, 2015

by Anna Thanukos, Teresa MacDonald, David Heiser, and Robert Ross

Understanding evolutionary trees is important for students because trees visually represent the idea that all life is genealogically linked. This powerful idea, tied to Next Generation Science Standards MS-LS4-2 and HS-LS4-1, is one of those most fundamental concepts that biological evolution offers to explain the biological world. The implication is that any set of species, no matter how distantly related, share common ancestors at some point in evolutionary history. Evolutionary trees are an efficient way to communicate that idea. It turns out, however, that evolutionary trees are not quite as straightforward to interpret as they may at first appear — so where can a teacher turn for a user-friendly introduction to their use in the classroom? Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Ship That Chip: Teaching Engineering by Using Snacks

Posted: Thursday, November 12th, 2015

by Joanne Michael

When a new school year begins, almost every student (and teacher) is excited, motivated, and ready to work hard. Almost as quickly as it began, however, the “newness” of the school year wears off, and the students are in need of something new to recharge them. At the same time, teachers attempting to implement NGSS (even if not in full implementation mode) are getting tired, and may need a pick-me-up of their own. Enter the “Ship the Chip” challenge! Learn More…

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is the K-5 science specialist at Meadows Elementary in Manhattan Beach, CA, and CSTA’s intermediate grades 3-5) Director.