Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) received a C grade from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in its final evaluation.

This grade is clearly inferior to those awarded to twelve states and the District of Columbia, as well as the NAEP and TIMSS frameworks, as ranked in the State of State Science Standards 2012. At the same time, the NGSS grade is clearly superior to grades given to the science standards of sixteen states—and the PISA framework. (The remaining states—twenty-two in all—earned scores so similar to NGSS as to be judged, on their merits, “too close to call.” Ditto the ACT science assessment framework.)

After analyzing the content, rigor, and clarity of NGSS, the Fordham Institute’s expert review team identified these key shortcomings:

1. Science standards should integrate and balance necessary content with critical “practices” through which students can extend learning and deepen understanding. The NGSS fail to achieve this balance; they too often gloss over or omit entirely the content that students need in order to make practices both feasible and worthwhile.

2. While ostensibly aimed at preparing all students to be “college and career ready,” the NGSS omit essential prerequisite content that would lay the groundwork for high school physics and chemistry, let alone for college-level science. And the newly-released “Appendix K,” which provides suggested “course sequences” for middle and high school, imply that the NGSS include the essential content that IS the foundation for high school physics and chemistry courses. They do not.

3. Too often, the NGSS standards assume that students have mastered essential prerequisite content that is never spelled out within the NGSS for earlier grades. Standards, the reviewers note, should clarify and prioritize what content and skills are essential at every grade level.

4. The NGSS incorporate “assessment boundaries” in some standards that are meant to limit the scope of knowledge and skills to be tested on state assessments, but will likely have the unintended effect of limiting curriculum and instruction. What’s more, often the content that is excluded by the boundaries is grade appropriate and part of the necessary foundation for future learning.

5. NGSS fail to include much math content that is critical to science learning, especially at the high-school level, where it is essential to learning physics and chemistry. The
reviewers write that the standards “seem to assiduously dodge the mathematical demands inherent in the subjects covered”— a missed opportunity as many states prepare to implement higher math standards under the Common Core.

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