September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

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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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…

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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…

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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.