What’s Wrong With the Next Generation Science Standards?
Several weeks ago, two prominent organizations, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the Thomas Fordham Institute, each released their feedback on the first draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). In both cases, the feedback was quite critical of the draft. Since this is just the first public draft, there’s lots of time to make corrections before states are asked to consider adopting the NGSS; but what corrections need to be made?
One issue right now is that the Common Core standards for Math and ELA aren’t currently well integrated into the standards. For example, Fordham notes that:
”…the word ‘proportion’ is used as early as grade two in the NGSS but does not show up until grade six in CCSS-M. Likewise, ‘relative abundance,’ a ratio in disguise, shows up before ratios do in CCSS-M. ‘Rates of change’ are also mentioned often in the K-5 NGSS, but the obvious meaning of this phrase is not aligned with CCSS-M, where rates are not introduced until middle school.”
I’d expect that this will improve as the standards get more polished, but it will be crucial to get this right (especially at the elementary level, where teachers will potentially have to juggle three sets of rigorous standards).
However, the biggest commonality between the reports is that the integration of science content (scientific facts and concepts) and practices (how science is done) within the standards isn’t currently where it needs to be. In my post before the draft was released, this was a potential pitfall I wondered about.
“Many of the performance expectations involve practices that allow them to be addressed successfully without understanding the knowledge described in the core idea. For example, a student can ask questions or carry out an investigation in some topic without understanding the core ideas in that topic.”
“They went overboard on ‘scientific practices,’ seemingly determined to include some version of such practices or processes in every standard, whether sensible (and actionable, teachable, assessable) or not. This led to distorted or unclear expectations for teachers and students and, often, to neglect of crucial scientific content.”
What are they referring to? Here’s an example performance expectation (from 5th grade, Matter and Energy in Ecosystems):
“5.MEE d. Ask questions about how food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and is digested by animals to release the energy they need to maintain body warmth and allow for motion.“
It’s unclear how this could be assessed while making sure that a student actually understands the science content – that animals need food to repair their bodies, grow, and get energy for life processes. That’s because “asking questions,” while an important part of doing science, is not a practice that necessarily requires deep understanding. In fact, as NSTA points out, of the eight practices identified in the original K-12 Framework on which the standards are based, only modeling, constructing explanations, or argumentation from evidence can show clear understanding of science content in the context of an assessment. That’s not to say the other five practices aren’t a crucial part of science and science instruction, but in the context of assessing what a student knows about science they can’t be the only piece.
This is going to be a tough problem to fix, because the integration of one of the eight practices into each of the performance expectations is the basic paradigm of the standards as they stand. NSTA’s solution is to add in more performance expectations, but I’d be concerned about how bloated the standards would become as a result. It will be interesting to see how the writers and Achieve handle this when the second public draft is released sometime in the fall.
What do you think about the feedback from NSTA and Fordham? Share your opinion with us in the comment sections below.
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