Fordham Gives The NGSS A ‘C’

5703402489_41ea0d46e0_mI’m not sure how much of an impact this will have on states going forward, but Fordham’s final evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards is out and the bottom line is that the NGSS are pretty mediocre. The whole report is readable, but you can get the main ideas from the document’s extra-readable forward. The authors identify five major flaws in the standards:

  1. Too much “missing and ‘implicit’ content”.
  2. Included “assessment boundaries” unnecessarily limit the scope of course content.
  3. The “failure to include essential math content”.
  4. Inadequate preparation for college-level STEM coursework.
  5. An overemphasis on scientific “practices” at the expense of scientific knowledge.

I’d say numbers 1, 3, 4, & 5 are serious; #2 less so. It’s not obvious to me that the assessment boundaries limit potential instruction any more than do other explicit content standards.

The way I’d put it is that the assessment boundaries are just a symptom of the standards’ most serious underlying problem: they’re too vague. If the NGSS weren’t so unclear, the authors probably wouldn’t have felt the need to try to clarify them by appending boundary statements to them.

That’s obviously a silly way to satisfy the demand for clarity and specificity. The boundary statements are really just a clumsy attempt to incorporate content that should have been included in the basic standards statements. (Why they felt the need to write so many of the boundary statements “negatively” – in terms of what knowledge won’t be assessed, rather than what will – is a mystery to me.)

My personal favorite bit from the report comes on page 38 as the authors evaluate the “content strengths” of  the NGSS high school physics standards. As they succinctly put it:  “We cannot discourse on the strengths of material that is absent.”

The authors conclude that while the NGSS are markedly inferior to existing standards in 12 states (and D.C.), they are clearly better than standards in 16 other states. (It is difficult for me to imagine how bad, say, North Dakota’s standards must be.)

So should those 16 states adopt the NGSS? Probably not. If you’re going to go to the trouble of adopting entirely new science standards, why not adopt some of the best existing state standards? There’s no need to settle for the NGSS when superior alternatives are available.

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  1. Posted June 13, 2013 at 10:44 PM | Permalink

    Hi Paul,

    Much of the science education community disagrees with the conclusions of the Fordham report. I think the disagreement between Fordham and the vision of the NGSS revolves around two points: the integration and use of “practices” in the standards, and decisions about what core ideas should have been included. In both instances, the Fordham perspective is flawed.

    I’ve written more here:

    • Posted June 14, 2013 at 1:09 AM | Permalink

      I’ll have more to say about this in the coming weeks, but for now suffice it to say that I am acutely aware of the fact that Fordham and I are not in the majority on this, but also that we’ve been pretty specific about why we believe NGSS supporters to be mistaken.

      To be frank, the science education community frequently misunderstands the research, which taken as a whole is not at all inconsistent with my position (or Fordham’s). I’ll try to elaborate on that as time allows, but the Fordham report already elaborates on it at some length.

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