A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council, 2012; hereafter referred to as “the Framework”) and the Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States (NGSS Lead States, 2013) describe a new vision for science learning and teaching that is catalyzing improvements in science classrooms across the United States. Achieving this new vision will require time, resources, and ongoing commitment from state, district, and school leaders, as well as classroom teachers.
The Committee on Guidance on Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards of the Board on Science Education was charged with developing guidance for implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as a step toward the goal of ensuring that adoption of the NGSS results in high-quality opportunities to learn science for all students, from kindergarten through high school. The report is intended primarily for district and school leaders and teachers in charge of developing a plan and implementing the NGSS.
PRINCIPLES FOR IMPLEMENTATION
Implementation of the NGSS should be guided by seven principles that reflect the vision of the Framework:
- Ensure coherence across levels (state, district, schools), across grades, and across different components of the system—curriculum, assessment, instruction, and professional development.
- Attend to what is unique about science.
- Develop and provide continuing support for leadership in science at the state, district, and school levels.
- Build and leverage networks, partnerships, and collaborations.
- Take enough time to implement well.
- Make equity a priority.
- Ensure that communication is ongoing and relevant.
To achieve the vision in keeping with the principles, the committee’s recommendations cover the major elements in the education system that need to be considered when implementing the NGSS: instruction; professional learning for teachers and district leaders; curriculum resources; assessment; collaboration, networks, and partnerships; and policies and communication. In addition to its recommendations, the committee offers (in the body of the report) pitfalls to avoid for each element.
The Framework and the NGSS offer a vision of science classrooms where students learn the core ideas and crosscutting concepts of science through engagement in the practices of science and engineering. The nature of instruction required to effectively support the new standards will require changes in many classrooms.
RECOMMENDATION 1 Communicate and support a vision of instruction that is consistent with A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and the Next Generation Science Standards. Regional and local science education leaders should establish and clearly communicate a vision of science instruction that is consistent with that of the two documents and ensure that their actions, policies, and resource allocations for science education—for professional development, curriculum materials, time to learn, space, equipment, and consumable materials—are aligned to supporting that vision.
RECOMMENDATION 2 Support teachers in making incremental and continuing changes to improve instruction. Administrators, science specialists, and resource and mentor teachers should help classroom teachers understand and
adopt the new vision for science learning and instruction through incremental and continuing changes to instruction. They should provide teachers with the curriculum resources needed to support this vision.
RECOMMENDATION 3 Develop a classroom culture that supports the new vision of science education. Teachers should align their teaching approaches, curriculum resources, and students’ tasks with the vision. Principals should support the vision and work to provide the necessary resources for teachers and students.
RECOMMENDATION 4 Make assessment part of instruction. Teachers should incorporate performance tasks, open-ended questions, writing tasks, student journals, student discourse, and other formative assessment strategies in their instruction. These activities should be embedded in ongoing classroom work during units and used to obtain information about students’ learning in science that can inform further instruction and provide feedback to students. Summative evidence of student learning that is aligned to the performance expectations in the Next Generation Science Standards should be gathered through student work products that document elements of performance tasks.
Teacher and Leader Learning
In many classrooms, instruction will need to change substantially to support the NGSS. In order to understand and support instruction that meets the performance expectations of the NGSS—which integrate scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas—both administrators and teachers will need ongoing professional learning opportunities. Teachers will need time and support to transform their instruction.
RECOMMENDATION 5 Begin with leadership. State, district, and school leaders should designate teams that include teachers to lead implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. Initial professional development efforts should be focused on these leadership teams. Team members should then be engaged in continuing professional learning appropriate to their roles to lead implementation of the necessary changes in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
RECOMMENDATION 6 Develop comprehensive, multiyear plans to support teachers’ and administrators’ learning. State, district, and school science education leaders should develop comprehensive multiyear plans for professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators. These plans need to balance existing resources, meet expectations for milestones in implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and take advantage of available tools and partners. The plans should take the needs of both current and new teachers into account and allow for ongoing refinement as schools and teachers gain expertise in implementing the NGSS.
RECOMMENDATION 7 Base design of professional development on the best available evidence. When designing professional learning experiences, district and school leaders and providers of professional development should build on the key findings from research. Professional development should (1) be content specific; (2) connect to teacher’s own instructional practice; (3) model the instructional approach being learned and ask teachers to analyze examples of it; (4) enable reflective collaboration; and (5) be a sustained element of a comprehensive and continuing support system. For sustained implementation, research shows that principals’ understanding of and support for instructional change is key.
RECOMMENDATION 8 Leverage networks and partners. Science education leaders at the state and district level and lead teachers should take full advantage of and cultivate partnerships with other districts, professional development networks, web-based professional development resources, science education researchers, and science-rich institutions—such as higher education institutions and science technology centers—to facilitate high-quality professional development.
Full sequences of curriculum materials designed explicitly for the NGSS have not yet been developed. Until they are available, there are research-based units and materials that support engagement of students in science and engineering practices that can be adapted. In addition, curriculum units currently in use can be revised to be consistent with the NGSS. Teachers will need such materials to support changes in instruction. Individual classroom teachers cannot be expected to develop their own curricula.
RECOMMENDATION 9 Do not rush to completely replace all curriculum materials. States, districts, and schools should not rush to purchase an entirely new set of curriculum materials since many existing materials are not aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Until new materials are available, district leadership teams in science will need to work with teachers to revise existing units and identify supplemental resources to support the new vision of instruction. In searching for supplemental materials, district leaders and teachers should look for those designed around goals for student learning that are consistent with the NGSS.
RECOMMENDATION 10 Decide on course scope and sequencing. State and district leaders will need to make decisions regarding the scope and sequence of courses in science. Scope and sequence is especially important for grades 6-12, for which the performance expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are organized in grade bands (6-8 and 9-12). The process of planning scope and sequence should be guided by the strategies outlined in Appendix K of the NGSS.
RECOMMENDATION 11 Be critical consumers of new curriculum materials. District leaders should plan to adopt and invest in curriculum materials developed for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) when high-quality materials become available and in keeping with their own curriculum adoption schedule. District leadership teams should use a clear set of measures and tools with which to judge whether curriculum materials are truly consistent with the goals of A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and the NGSS. Individuals involved in the adoption process should be trained to use those measures and tools.
RECOMMENDATION 12 Attend to coherence in the curriculum. Curriculum designers and curriculum selection teams should ensure that curriculum materials are designed with a coherent trajectory for students’ learning. The performance expectations in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are the target outcomes for the end of a grade level or grade band, and curricula will need to elaborate on a sequence of experiences that will help students meet those expectations. Students need to experience the practices in varied combinations and in multiple contexts to be able to use them as required to meet the NGSS performance expectations.
Past assessments of science have chiefly focused on knowledge of facts and procedures, and, hence, are not well suited to the performance expectations of the NGSS. A variety of different assessment and monitoring tools will be needed to serve the different needs of state- and district-level accountability, as well as the needs of classroom-level formative assessment to inform learning and instruction and grading of individual students. All of these will need to be considered in the context of the performance expectations of the NGSS, which integrate scientific and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.
RECOMMENDATION 13 Create a new system of science assessment and monitoring. State science education leaders should create a long-term plan to develop and implement a new system of state science assessments that are designed to measure the performance expectations in the Next Generation Science Standards. The system should incorporate multiple elements, including on-demand tests, classroom-embedded assessments, and measures of opportunity to learn at the state or district level. When possible, state science education leaders and those responsible for state assessment should consider developing partnerships, perhaps with other states, to facilitate the work of developing new science assessments.
RECOMMENDATION 14 Help teachers develop appropriate formative assessment strategies. School leaders need to ensure that professional development for science teachers covers issues of assessment and supports teachers in using formative assessment of student thinking to inform ongoing instruction.
Collaboration, Networks, and Partnerships
Most states and districts will be facing the same challenges of implementation, and some of the needed expertise resides outside of school systems. Finding, forming, and participating in effective collaborations, networks, and partnerships can facilitate and support the NGSS implementation. The needs at each level of the system (state, district, and school) vary and will require different partnerships and networks. Leaders will need to reach across the traditional boundaries of schools, districts, and states to share information and expertise and identify potential partners, such as informal education institutions, community organizations, and businesses.
RECOMMENDATION 15 Create opportunities for collaboration. District and school leaders should create and systematically support opportunities for teachers and administrators to collaborate within and across districts and schools, with support from relevant experts, with a focus on how to improve instruction to support students’ learning as described in A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and the Next Generation Science Standards.
RECOMMENDATION 16 Identify, participate in, and build networks. Science education leaders should identify, participate in, and help build national, regional, or local networks that will enable communities of practitioners, policy makers, science experts, and education researchers to collaboratively solve problems and learn from others’ implementation efforts. Teachers and administrators should be encouraged to participate in such networks as appropriate.
RECOMMENDATION 17 Cultivate partnerships. Science education leaders should identify partners in their region and community that have the expertise, motivation or resources to be supportive of their efforts to implement the Next Generation Science Standards and develop relationships with them. In collaboration with potential partners, leaders should determine the kind of support each partner is most suited to provide and to develop strategies for working with them.
Policy and Communication
Policies at the state and district levels and in higher education have complex, interconnected, and often unintended effects. It is important to consider how various policies may affect decisions and opportunities related to implementing the NGSS. Communication and discussion within the education system as well as with external stakeholders at every level is needed to ensure that the goals of the NGSS are understood.
RECOMMENDATION 18 Ensure existing state and local policies are consistent with the goals for implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). State boards or commissions with the appropriate authority should review and revise where necessary state-level policies with regard to teacher certification, graduation requirements, and admissions requirements for higher education to ensure they do not create barriers to effective implementation. District leaders should ensure local policies such as teacher assignment support implementation of the NGSS.
RECOMMENDATION 19 Create realistic timelines and monitor progress. State, district, and school leaders should ensure that timelines for implementing the Next Generation Science Standards are realistic and are clearly understood at all levels of the system. They should monitor the implementation and make adjustments when necessary.
RECOMMENDATION 20 Use A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and the Next Generation Science Standards to drive teacher preparation. Provosts, deans, department heads, and faculty in higher education institutions should review and revise programs and requirements for teacher preservice training and introductory undergraduate science courses to ensure these are responsive to teachers’ needs under the Next Generation Science Standards, at both the elementary and secondary levels.
RECOMMENDATION 21 Communicate with local stakeholders. State, district, and school leaders should develop a comprehensive strategy for communicating with parents and community members about the Next Generation Science Standards and the changes that will take place to implement them, including a multiyear timeline, possible changes in students’ assessment results, and how science classrooms may be different. The communication strategy should include opportunities for public dialogues in which parents and others in the community can provide feedback and express concerns.