Could these new standards work better than Common Core?

New science standards are free of time-crunches and high-stakes requirements

standards-science-NGSSImagine this ‘unicorn’ scenario in education: You take an entire subject–one whose mastery could push the country to the forefront of innovation–and spend years doing nothing but perfecting its standards and assessments with absolutely no looming deadlines or high-stakes requirements. Be prepared to believe, educators, because this scenario is real, and it’s happening with new science standards.

In a recent webinar hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education, “Scientific Assessments: Innovations in the next generation of state assessments,” noted state education leaders described the enormous potential the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) could have for states and how assessments may be developed from these standards.

“This is truly a great opportunity for states, districts, and schools, because they don’t have the high-stakes national requirement breathing down their necks. States can really take the time they need for thoughtful, effective implementation and assessment development,” said Stephen L. Pruitt, PhD, senior vice president for Achieve, which helped developed the standards.

(Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #eSNCommonCore. Next page: What are states doing with NGSS and what are they?)

So far, eight states (Rhode Island, Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland, Vermont, California, Delaware, and Washington State) have adopted the new science standards, which were developed by 26 states. Broad-based teams within these states worked together with a 41-member writing team and partners throughout the country to develop the standards.

The standards, separate from those for the Common Core, which measure math and language arts, focus on practice, core idea, and cross-cutting concepts in order to mimic the three-dimensional process used by scientists in their profession.

Learn more about the new science standards:

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“NGSS were written as performance expectations and will require contextual applications of the three dimensions by students,” explained Priutt. “The standards, developed by the National Research Council (NRC), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and Achieve, focus not just on the ‘what’ of learning, but the ‘why’ and ‘how.’”

Learn more about the development of the NGSS here.

What are states doing with NGSS?

According to Nancy Doorey, director of Programs, K–12 Center, Educational Testing Service (ETS), states will need to develop new professional development opportunities, instructional resources, and formative assessment resources if they plan to adopt NGSS.

“However, summative assessments for these standards are a large priority, as many states require students to pass science requirements in order to graduate,” she said. “The NRC will soon release a guide on developing these important assessments.”

Karen Kidwell, director of the Office of Program Standards for the Kentucky Department of Education, said her state–the first state to fully adopt the standards–is using a multi-year process for school districts to “build capacity.”

“We’re currently in the design stage for NGSS, figuring out how best to implement these standards into the curriculum and what kinds of assessments we’d use,” said Kidwell, “and we’re using a very collaborative approach in building this capacity with our 173 districts.”

According to Kidwell, Kentucky has had a hard time achieving inquiry-based learning at scale due to time constraints, but the new science standards are giving educators the right amount of time to help design the ideal curriculum.

Each school district in the state selects a team of 3-10 (depending on the size of the district) teacher-leaders to attend a larger learning community in each of the state’s 8 regions. These teacher-leaders meet with learning cooperatives, university officials, and field specialists from the state education department to discuss the implementation design of the NGSS.

(Next page: Benefits of adoption and upcoming projects)

“We’re focused right now on understanding the intent of these standards, the performance expectations, and taking the time to understand and analyze the types of questions, resources, and items to see if they’re congruent to NGSS. We’re trying to develop what we call ‘critical consumer’ skills,” said Kidwell.

Kentucky isn’t planning on requiring districts to use the NGSS until the 2015-16 school year, but recommends all district begin sending teacher-leader teams to these meetings and having superintendents and principles meeting with state education department field specialists.

“This is a great opportunity because we have such a long time to think about and design for these standards,” said Kidwell. “Though it’s not required that districts participate in the design stage right now, it’s recommended. So far, 95 percent of all state districts are participating in these meetings, which bodes well for full-scale implementation in the next couple of years.”

Kathleen Scalise, PhD, associate professor of Education at the University of Oregon, highlighted a number of ways states could design curriculum and assessments around the new standards, specifically using a model based on work supported by the National Science Foundation.

“The model that we’re proposing is based on the theory of action—so you’re not just collecting data on what students know, but trying to have the assessments teach students at the same time. In other words, what can students learn from the assessments?”

The model is called Visual: Student Model ECD and includes pieces that fit together like a puzzle.

Scalise also went into vigorous detail into three different options states could use design implementation and assessment for the NGSS. For more information on these options, view the webinar.

“The key messages we’re giving out to states right now is to effectively implement the Common Core Standards, identify the role that science plays in the overall education plan, develop a thoughtful and deliberate implementation plan that supports the overall education plan, and be patient!” said Pruitt.

Another issue in the upcoming year will be the focus on funding, said state leaders, because the NGSS currently do not have any state coalitions—such as PARCC and Smarter Balanced—for the Common Core Standards.

Read more on NGSS integration with Common Core here.

Though both PARCC and Smarter Balanced received federal funding to develop assessments for the Common Core, individual states do have federal funding for science assessments.

“We’re not anticipating any additional money for these new science standards and assessments,” said Kidwell, “so we’ll probably try to use the money already allotted to our state for the development of science assessments.”

According to Pruitt, NGSS has a number of upcoming projects to help states further implement the new standards, including: SciMath (Jan. 2014), Evidence Statements (Jan. 2014), Publishers’ Criteria (Spring 2014), Alignment Institutes (early Summer 2014); Additional Model Course Maps (Winter 2014), Science EQuIP (Winter 2014), and the State of Science Education Research (Winter 2014).

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Meris Stansbury

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