California's New Science Standards

by Mary Perry | September 26, 2018 | 1 Comment
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Is Your School Up-to-Date on Teaching Science?

Children are born investigators. As every parent knows, they are full of questions.

Why does the moon change shape? How can worms live in dirt? What happens inside a cocoon to create a butterfly?

These questions are actually the beginning of scientific inquiry, a love of science, and maybe even a love of learning. Or at least they can be if teachers and parents use kids’ questions as step one in teaching them how to develop theories about the world around them, conduct their own investigations, and determine if their theories are correct.

That’s the approach of California’s new standards for teaching science. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) align with how kids learn best: by starting with questions and using hands-on investigation to discover the answers. In the Ed100 lesson on STEM education you’ll get a quick overview.

What does science look like at local schools?

Right now, the answer could be all over the map. Even though the State Board of Education officially adopted California’s version of NGSS in 2013, they won’t provide a list of state-approved instructional materials for grades K-8 until their November 2018 meeting. California schools and districts are in very different places in their implementation of the standards.

How will your school use the new science standards?

Ask your child’s teacher, your school principal or district leaders how they plan to implement the new science standards.

See if your district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) commits resources toward implementation of the new science standards.

Look up your school district on the California School Dashboard and find the local indicator that describes Standards Implementation.

Some districts have been waiting for the materials adoption before tackling the new approach to teaching science. At the other end of the continuum, a group of eight districts and two charter schools got a serious head start by participating in the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, a four-year project that began in 2014. During 2018 several publications came out detailing what those districts learned and providing guidance to other districts.

This fall, we will all have more information thanks to the spring 2018 field test of the California Science Test (CAST). The questions on the CAST reflect the NGSS approach and expectations. A preliminary report of the results will provide one indicator of where districts, schools and students currently are in learning the new science standards. The tests are given to students in 5th and 8th grade, and once in high school.

Science should be elementary — at least to start with

One important note is that the tests cover content across grade bands, for example the 5th grade test will cover the NGSS standards from kindergarten through 5th grade. The test design and the standards themselves encourage schools to provide science instruction across all grades.

At the middle and high school levels, science is generally offered, but the NGSS adoption puts pressure on schools to reconsider how they think about and teach science. It also makes clear that wanting all students to graduate from high school having mastered these standards is a tall order.

It’s at the elementary grades in particular, where science can be harder to find. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 parents by the California State PTA, more than half said the current amount of science instruction in elementary schools is not enough. That is an opportunity lost for our kids and our schools.

Want to know what the standards contain, grade by grade?

The national NGSS organization offers helpful parent guides.

California has developed separate documents that provide a closer look at what our state adopted. Visit the science curriculum section.

To dig deeply into how the standards tie to instruction, start with the overview of the state’s NGSS Curriculum Framework.

Questions & Comments

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Jeff Camp September 28, 2018 at 11:31 am
A timely report by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at Wested underscores Mary's points. "NGSS implementation on the whole is still proceeding slowly, as district capacity lags behind the state’s planned timeline."
A central quandary revealed by a survey of district leaders: already under financial pressure, what should they cut in order to fund the implementation of the new standards? Many are taking a "wait and see" approach.
©2003-2018 Jeff Camp
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