Monday, January 14, 2013

Next Generation Science Standards

In the next few months, a consortium of state and local governments, the National Research Council (NRC), the National Science Teachers Association, and other stakeholders will finalize a set of national science standards, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which they anticipate most states will adopt. The 26 lead state partners in the development of the standards, including Arizona, California, and Massachusetts, have promised to seriously consider adoption of the common standards.

The NGSS come at a time when students in the United States ranked 17th in science among 31 nations administering the most recent (2009) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and when only 18 percent of high school seniors perform at a proficient level in science. They come at a time when science education is not only essential to remaining competitive in the global economy, but vital in people’s everyday lives in which they must interpret scientific information to make important decisions about technology, the environment, and many other aspects of their lives.

The standards are being based on the NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Education. The Framework reflects advances in science in the past 15 years, as well as the most current research regarding how students learn science. It is also internationally benchmarked, meaning it is informed by a thorough examination of the science standards of top performing countries. The Framework establishes in detail three interconnected dimensions: scientific and engineering practices (e.g., developing and using models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing data), cross-cutting concepts (e.g., recognizing patterns, cause and effect, matter and energy), and core content.

While the NGSS aren’t finalized yet, key facets of the standards are clear:

·         Scientific and engineering processes and cross-cutting concepts will be taught in conjunction with all core content throughout the year. Evidence suggests that active engagement in scientific and engineering processes and cross-cutting concepts helps deepen students’ understanding of core content and better reflects how science is done in the real world.

·         Emphasis will be on depth rather than breadth. In other words, instruction will focus on the essential core ideas and develop them progressively and coherently across K-12. This will help students acquire a deeper understanding that allows them to apply these core ideas to gain new knowledge.

·         Science and engineering will be integrated so that students understand the relationship between the two and how they are applicable to their everyday lives and to solving current world challenges such as developing clean energy and preventing and treating diseases.

·         Science standards will coordinate with Common Core State Standards for English language arts (ELA) and math so that science is an integrated part of students’ overall education.

ATI is prepared to help states that adopt the common standards implement them. Currently, our science libraries contain over 17,000 items, and these items assess a vast range of science and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and core content. Many ATI science assessment items are constructed to engage students using textual and graphical resources. These Item Families reflect the NGSS emphasis on integration of processes, cross-cutting concepts, and core content by allowing these three dimensions to be assessed in concert. Item Families range in style from reports of scientific experiments to expository texts to diagrams. For example, an assessment may present a student with background information and results of an experiment and then ask the student a series of questions, some which assess the student’s mastery of scientific practices and cross-cutting concepts, others that assess the student’s comprehension of core content related to the experiment.  

ATI has over 200 science Instructional Dialogs that can be used for instruction before or interventions after assessment. They address a variety of content and skills, from the scientific method to natural resources to chemical bonding. A K-2 Dialog titled Animals and Their Parents exemplifies the NGSS emphasis on integration of the three dimensions, as well as the integration between science and other core subjects. The Dialog actively engages students in the processes of making observations and predictions and analyzing data (e.g., “Based on this picture of an adult cheetah, what do you think a baby cheetah looks like?”), as well as the cross-cutting concepts of recognizing patterns and identifying stability and change, as they learn about some of the common similarities and differences between young animals and their parents. The Dialog coordinates with ELA curriculum by drawing upon the electronic picture book The Mouse, the Rooster, and the Cat. At the beginning of the Dialog students are asked to identify some of the ways the mouse protagonist physically resembles its mother. As the Dialog progresses, they observe physical differences and compare the mouse and its mother in terms of behavior too (i.e. the mother helps protect the little mouse).  

Once the NGSS are finalized, ATI science content specialists will promptly map existing assessment and instructional content to the new standards and begin work developing new content to supplement and enhance it. The most recent draft of the Next Generation Science Standards are available at

Michelle Ross
Science Content Coordinator
Assessment Technology Incorporated

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