With our national science scores remaining below those of many other countries, US states continue to look for ways to change the way we teach science. The newest set of science standards is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the number of states adopting the NGSS standards or a version of them, is growing.  Let’s look at the history and the future of the NGSS.

What are the NGSS?

The NGSS are a set of standards that cover every grade level and every scientific discipline.  According to their developers, these are standards that go beyond a specific discipline and attempt to integrate all disciplines to the real-world.  The focus is on a 3-Dimensional Model, which includes Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Scientific and Engineering Practices (SEPs), and Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs).  The goal is for students to understand that science is more than just memorizing facts, and that science should be interwoven where it fits into the world.

How were the NGSS developed?

The idea of uniform science standards is not new.  The National Research Council (NRC) was created over a century ago to focus on the use of scientific research in American industries. ngss_logo_tag-300x137
Project 2061, created by Advancing Science, Serving Society (ASSS) in 1985, helped to define scientific literacy through its publication, Science for All Americans. In 1996, the NRC published National Science Education Standards, which were designed to enable the nation to achieve the goal of scientific literacy. In 2010, the NRC began the process of creating guidelines to change the way we teach science. A Framework for K-12 Science Education, released in 2011, provided the foundation to help develop standards that address what K-12 science students should know.  This was the beginning of the NGSS. In the fall of 2011, 26 states with an 18-member panel of experts appointed by the NRCBlog Articles worked together to write the new standards.  The final draft of the NGSS was released in April 2013, and Rhode Island was the first to adopt them in May 2013.  This was separate from the development of the Common Core standards released in 2010, although the NGSS team worked with the Common Core writers to help with literacy connections.

The future of the NGSS?

As of February 2016, 17 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, while over 40 states have shown interest in them. With pressure to improve science scores and science education in the United States, many states see the NGSS as a way to bring about that change.  At this point, the future of the NGSS remains to be seen.  The NGSS are meant to serve as a guideline, and the decision to follow all or parts of that guideline is ultimately up to each individual state, but there must also be buy-in from the local and classroom levels.

Why should my state look at adopting the NGSS?

Some of the advantages of the NGSS standards are:

  • Previous national standards are out-of-date
  • Emphasis on how to use science in the real world
  • Helps prepare students for STEM-related careers
  • Helps students to solve problems as opposed to only learning facts
  • States can save money by not having to develop their own standards
  • Links the different science disciplines together

What are some of the cons of the NGSS?

There are also potential drawbacks to adopting the new standards.  Some questions are:

  • Will adequate teacher training be available?
  • Are the standards too specific, and do they remove some of the creativity from teachers and students?
  • What is the cost to implement the new standards?
  • Will elected officials, students, teachers, and parents buy into the idea of uniform standards across state lines?

The NGSS are backed by research, and they were developed by both scientists and educators.  As with any new development in education, many states are waiting to see how other states fare with the new standards.  Only time will tell if NGSS are the answer to improving science education in the United States.

About the Author
A former science teacher in Georgia, Dr Michael Tolmich is now USATestprep’s Science Content Team Leader. He lives with his wife and their two sons in Tucker, GA.