Misalignment of NGSS and grad standards stalls execution

Misalignment of NGSS and grad standards stalls execution

(Calif.) A lack of access to instructional materials, science equipment and credentialed teachers has stalled implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards in California, new research shows.

Further complicating the landscape is the fact that the state’s minimum high school graduation requirements include only two years of instruction in life and physical sciences, while the new standards require a minimum of three years, the Public Policy Institute of California reported last week.

The authors of the report also noted that science education continues to take a back seat to math and English, and very few students have access to a quality science education in early grades, and urban school districts were further ahead in the implementation process than their rural counterparts. 

“The new standards are an important step toward improving science education,” Niu Gao, co-author of the report, said in a statement. “But the state needs to take additional steps to help districts implement them, such as updating high school graduation requirements and improving science education in the early grades.”

Created by a consortium of 26 states, the NGSS emphasizes disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices. The standards have been a source of contention in many parts of the county because of its alignment to the Common Core State Standards, as well as its inclusion of evolutionary theories and global climate change.

Education officials in Wyoming and West Virginia, for instance, faced public criticism for removing teachings of human contributions to climate change, fearing negative impact on the states’ fossil fuel industry–while Hawaii, one of the most fossil-fuel-dependent states in the nation, announced in 2016 that students would get hands-on experience learning about clean energy during lessons on the human impacts of climate change.

As of November 2017, 19 states including Arkansas, Rhode Island, Nevada, Illinois, Connecticut, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have adopted the science standards and are working to implement them in districts and schools.

Using results from a survey of districts conducted by the California Department of Education at the end of the 2016–17 school year, researchers at the Public Policy Institute found that although the NGSS requires at least three years of instruction in life sciences and physical sciences, state graduation requirements only call for two.

Authors of the report found that while local districts can require additional years, only 40 percent of all districts did, and just 26 percent of urban districts did so.

Researchers noted that the variation in high school graduation requirements may lead to inequitable learning opportunities, and that most states have made significant changes to their high school graduation requirements, leaving California one of a few states that require only two years of science.

They also found that few K–5 students have access to high-quality science education–47 percent of unified and high school districts surveyed reported that limited exposure in early grades presents a big challenge in their schools, especially among large and high-need districts. That lack of exposure to science education early on is a likely contributor to the achievement gaps seen in fourth grade, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress assessments are first administered.

Data from the 2015 NAEP assessment results show that in California, there was a 30 point gap between white and African American and Latino students, and a similar gap between affluent and low-income students. Such gaps persist and significantly affect student learning in later years, researchers said.

Other findings highlighted in the report show:

  • Awareness and implementation are uneven. A quarter of low-performance districts are only slightly familiar with the new standards, and while 78 percent of all districts surveyed report that they are implementing the new standards, 94 percent of urban districts reported the same–outpacing their rural counterparts.
  • Nearly 60 percent of districts reported a lack of instructional materials as a significant challenge, while most also have issues with the quantity of science labs, the adequacy of science labs, and the quantity of science equipment in their districts. The state is scheduled to adopt textbooks and other instructional materials this year.
  • Insufficient numbers of credentialed science teachers also present challenges for about 25 percent of districts, while more than 70 percent face challenges in professional development.