DC State Board of Education Considers NGSS

Yesterday I appeared before the DC State Board of Education and urged them to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (see my testimony below).

I spoke about how the NGSS would bring positive changes to District classrooms with its new approach to teaching science that ties lessons into a few “big ideas” of science, incorporates engineering as a key science component, and emphasizes the practices used by scientists and engineers.

Probably the biggest change is that the new standards will engage students to pose (not just answer) questions and understand the process they go through to get to the answers, allowing for a deeper understanding of content and how to apply it.

These skills are key to ensuring that all students are science literate and critically savvy science consumers of the future.

I emphasized to the Board that NGSS implementation will require time and top level commitment and financial support. Teachers and school leaders will need to restructure classroom lessons and courses, and we need to make sure that teachers are trained to teach to the new standards.

NSTA has a number of resources focused on NGSS and the Framework for K–12 Science Education, including a series of interactive web seminars, articles from peer-reviewed journals, NSTA Press books by NGSS writers, online short courses and face-to-face conference lectures and workshops, all designed to build an understanding of the standards and provide a pathway for putting the best practices of the standards into action in the classroom.

In addition to the resources, NSTA released a new position statement, which expresses NSTA’s strong support of NGSS and provides a series of recommendations to ensure successful implementation.

The Board asked me to comment on the difficulty involved in implementation. I explained that implementation would be a generational process, but that student benefits will accrue almost immediately. The Board also asked for comments on reports that DC science standards have been rated “A” and are viewed as superior to NGSS. Speakers from Achieve and the National Research Council and I all emphasized that NGSS is based on the best research on how students learn; that they are for ALL students, not just the elite; and that much better preparation for career and college comes from richer in-depth understanding of fewer topics, than the shallow but broad approach reflected in current standards.

Principals from three DC Reward schools were also on the agenda and it was exciting to hear about one school’s science program called “Think Tank.” From their website: “Think Tank is an inquiry-based learning class at Maury Elementary that is based in Habits of Mind and Multiple Intelligence theory.” Science provides an exciting focal point for many Maury’s activities. Unfortunately, the Maury principal had to give the assistant principal position to fund her science teacher. She expressed no regret of the choice, however.

I was delighted to see teachers in the room, as these are the people who will ultimately implement the changes that will come and who have the biggest stake in hearing about these new standards. DCSTA was also well represented with one of their members also testifying.

I urge all teachers of science, and that includes elementary teachers, to read the NSTA position paper, use it as a resource, and share it with policy makers, principals, administrators and parents. Join us and become part of this national movement to transform K–12 science education.


Testimony to DC State Board of Education
Next Generation Science Standards
November 20, 2013
Presented by David Evans Ph.D.
Executive Director, National Science Teachers Association

On behalf of the National Science Teachers Association, I want to thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony in support of the Next Generation Science Standards.  My name is David Evans, and I am executive director of the NSTA. NSTA is the largest science teacher organization in the world with more than 55,000 members from every state and from numerous countries.  We have 212 members in the District of Columbia, and we work closely with our local chapter, the DC Science Teachers Association.  It is an honor to be here tonight with my distinguished colleagues who I am sure join me in strongly encouraging the District of Columbia to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards.

Simply put, the NSTA believes that the Next Generation Science Standards will be a game changer in the way science is taught, and learned, in classrooms nationwide.  It calls for a new approach to teaching science that ties lessons into a few “big ideas” of science, incorporates engineering as a key science component and emphasizes the practices used by scientists and engineers. In our position statement on NGSS, which is included in our written testimony, we strongly endorse adoption of the new standards and outline the steps needed to ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge required for college and STEM careers and to be well-informed citizens.

First, some background on how these standards were developed. Education experts from 26 states and a cadre of teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, scientists, and other stakeholders worked for two years to develop the Next Generation Science Standards.  The NGSS is based on the publication titled A Framework for K–2 Science Education, which was written and released in 2011 by a respected panel of National Research Council scientists. The Framework for K–12 Science Education describes the major practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas that all students should be familiar with by the end of high school. The Framework also spells out how these practices, concepts, and ideas should be developed across the grade levels.

To date eight states—Washington, California, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, Kansas, Kentucky, and Delaware– have already adopted the standards.  This is important to note, because these standards were written by states, for states, with no federal involvement.

Public support is also very high for new science standards; in a recent poll, Achieve found that 87% of those polled support new science standards. In an NSTA online survey, 83% of science educators indicated strong support for common standards in science.

So what positive changes can District parents and teachers expect with the Next Generation Science Standards?

NGSS introduces engineering and key technology principles into the classroom, starting at the early grades.

Research shows that the best way to gain a deep understanding of science is to engage in scientific and engineering practices. NGSS effectively integrates these practices with rigorous science content.

The standards emphasize the process of science and how science is conducted in the real world. It engages students in not only finding answers to questions, but also understanding the process they go through to get to the answer, allowing for a deeper understanding of content and how to apply it.

Next Generation Science Standards also foster whole systems thinking, and will help students to develop critical and contextual thinking skills in order to prepare them for college or a 21st century career. Most importantly, these critical skills are key to ensuring that all students are science literate and critically savvy science consumers of the future.

These positive changes are encouraging, but will require time and top level commitment and financial support. Teachers, school leaders, and parents will need to restructure classroom lessons and courses, develop new methods of teaching and support systems. Most importantly, we need to make sure that teachers are trained to teach to the new standards.

When the District of Columbia adopts the Next Generation Science Standards, NSTA will be ready to help parents, school leaders, and teachers to implement them.

NSTA already offers a number of quality resources, including web seminars, online short courses, face-to-face workshops and conferences, and books by NGSS writers—all designed to build an understanding of the standards and provide a pathway for putting the standards into classroom instruction.

In addition, we are working to develop an online web resource that will allow District teachers to learn and understand the standards, identify and share targeted resources, interact and collaborate with colleagues, and locate tools to plan instruction.

In summary, the National Science Teachers Association strongly encourages the DC State Board of Education to adopt and implement the Next Generation Science Standards.  The Next Generation Science Standards represent a significant shift in how we want students to learn science and what we want them to learn.   Improving the quality of science education for DC students is also an economic issue.  It is no secret that employers are demanding workers who are proficient in science, technology, and engineering knowledge and skills. To fill this demand, and better compete in the global marketplace, students in the District of Columbia must be provided with a world class education in the sciences and STEM that prepares them for college or a career. Adoption and implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards is the path forward to achieving these goals.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

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