California Postpones NGSS Adoption For Two Months

8398527411_95383f9991_mThe California State Board of Education considered adopting the Next Generation Science Standards yesterday and…decided to wait to vote on them until their September meeting.

I’d like to think that’s because state education leaders are beginning to have second thoughts about the new standards, but that does not appear to be the case:

The reasons: To give teachers an opportunity to comment on them, to ensure that standards are aligned to tests and to provide time for professional development.

“The concerns we’re getting are not with the content,” said Sherry Griffith, a legislative advocate with the Association of California School Administrators, whose members support the new standards. “We think that it would benefit the state board to provide that full breadth of time and have the next 90 days to solicit input from the on-the-ground teachers that will be impacted.”

In other words, the delay is a formality. The fact is that the NGSS are broadly popular; many of the key players are hard-core supporters, and the language of the standards and their promotional material is vaguely appealing to people even if they haven’t familiarized themselves with the details. (Who doesn’t like “scientific thinking” and “21st century skills”? That’d be like hating baby pandas.)

My guess is that the primary reason for the delay is actually testing alignment anyway.

Under the current system, for example, California’s 8th graders are tested at the end of the year on the content of their 8th grade “physical science” course, which includes a little bit of chemistry, physics, and astronomy. 6th and 7th graders are not tested in science, and the 8th grade test is not cumulative.

California’s proposed NGSS adoption plan, however, has 8th graders learning a combination of heredity, evolution, astronomy, physics, and environmental science in addition to entirely new “engineering design” standards. That’s pretty different from the status quo.

Our current state, district, and school testing regimes are nowhere near ready to start handling the new standards, and until there’s an implementation plan to reconcile them adopting the standards would look – be – reckless.

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  1. BD
    Posted July 11, 2013 at 7:57 PM | Permalink

    Paul, Achieve will have an assessment report out at the end of the summer through the National Academy Press (NAP). There will not be an assessment most likely unitl 2016-2017. Districts will have four years to realign with with the outcomes stated in NGSS. Whether that is enough time or not will depend on many different things.

    The mistake that people make when they consider the adoption of standards is the idea that adoption means that school districts should be achieving the outcomes right after formal adoption. This is not true not to mention impossible. States are being recommended to engage in a “zero year” where the focus is on professional development.

    California’s test, as well as any other state test, does not authentically align with NGSS. Testing will have to be very different.

    There does need to be a state plan, and states are currently being encouraged to have one. I believe most are a “phase out/phase in” articualtion. Merley adopting standards is not reckless. They clarify the intended outcomes. If there is agreement on what all students should be able to achieve and agreement on what is important for post-secondary life, then the stadards are fullfilling their purpose. There should be no reason for not adopting them.

    Standards do not tell you how to get there. They are not the curriculm, instruction, nor assessment. They are the picture at the end. Think of the book “Backwards by Design”. If you want to insure you reach the end, you start with the end.

    • Posted July 11, 2013 at 11:56 PM | Permalink

      There’s definitely a theoretical distinction to be drawn between the “what” of standards and the “how” of curriculum and instruction. (The NGSS do, however, spend hundreds of pages blurring that distinction.) That distinction isn’t really what creates the tension, however.

      The issue, as I said, is that the tests don’t align, and that that throws off the whole accountability system. We all agree that NGSS-aligned tests are not ready to launch. If the standards are “adopted” but schools are tested using the existing assessment apparatus, then the system is incoherent. Will science tests simply be dropped for 4 years? How will that affect API calculations? Etc. Those are the kinds of straightforward-but-thusfar-unresolved issues that will – rightfully – cause over-hasty adoption to be viewed as reckless.

      Note also that until there are actual assessments ready for teacher inspection, “zero years” and “professional development” aren’t really going to be terribly useful anyway. This is true for all standards, but it’s especially true for the NGSS, which suffer from so much ambiguity that they’re often virtually impossible to interpret for practical, day-to-day purposes. Assessments will define the NGSS – to a very large degree – by disambiguating them, and there aren’t all that many useful ways to prepare for them until they’re out and we can look at them.

  2. BD
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 12:58 PM | Permalink

    I agree that NGSS does blur the line a bit. Must frustration is clarity in NGSS.

    I just read another article that reinterated that teachers want to see if assessment will align with standards. Unless California has a really good test, there won’t be alignment.

    I don’t think we can expect science test to be dropped for four years nor expect them to stop being high stakes. There will be incoherency.

    The assessment preview I was shown was simulation based. It was very ambitious. You cam imagine the implementation problems.

    I do think you can have PD and have many willing participants. I have. Teachers are interested. Whether one believes that practices should be coupled with content or not, a good science teacher will recognize that scientific practices are essential for classroom rigor. If PD focuses on quality teaching through the practices, teachers will engage.

    I think that states and districts should be asking themselves if they are truly committed to supporting teachers and students in the implemtation of these standards. I think this is essentially what you are saying. There is much more to quality science education than a new set of standards.

  3. Cory
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 3:19 PM | Permalink


    I am a junior high science teacher and I agree with what you have been saying completely. If/When we adopt the new standards, be ready for a train wreck. Instead of adopting new standards, we should be tweaking our current standards to make them a little more common core friendly. A major issue is that most science teachers have no clue of what is happening. I have a coworker who went to Sacremento with the CDE when the standards were first released, and they wouldn’t even listen to what the teachers were saying. How does big industry have more influence than teachers?

    • Posted August 2, 2013 at 3:33 PM | Permalink

      I agree completely about tweaking our existing standards, and also that while a minority of science teachers in the state are really excited about the NGSS, most are either only vaguely-supportive-in-theory or not following the issues that closely.

      And if I’m reading you right, I agree that the trouble is that NGSS supporters can mostly dodge the major problems with the new standards because there are no assessments or accountability schemes associated with them. Once teachers have to try to make sense out of them in practice, it may very well be a train wreck.

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