Bringing the Next Generation Science Standards to CUSD

Posted by: District 1 year, 1 month ago

Bringing the Next Generation Science Standards to CUSD

by Karl Mueller, CUSD Superintendent

By now, you’re familiar with the changes Common Core brought to our schools’ instruction. Additionally, we’ve been highlighting our new integrated math curriculum for several months. Needless to say, education remains a dynamic industry.


Math isn’t the only subject seeing an overhaul. Science is getting the same attention.


Before launching into the changes, we wanted to take a step back to address the driving force behind the new science standards. Part of the reasoning behind Common Core stems from the United State’s ranking in math and science internationally. Every four years since 1995, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) evaluates 4th and 8th graders’ achievement in science and math from over 40 countries. While domestically we thought we excelled in education around the world, this assessment viewed our standards differently.


The United States came in 11th.


It’s not only progressive regions such as Singapore we are lagging behind, we are following several less-developed countries. As a result, many tech or science-based jobs are leaving to go toward these better-performing nations. This news brought dismay and frustration to a country that prided itself as being the forefront of education. The results caused ripples of change to spur throughout the entire approach to schooling, which in part lead to the creation of Common Core.


Fast-forward to today and the State of California Board of Education’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards for grades K-12.


As a district, we are very excited about the new science standards, viewing them as pushing our education ahead of the curve in some areas, specifically engineering. The NGSS includes Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering Design for grades K-12.


While the new high school math curriculum is integrated, our high school teachers decided that the traditional science course sequence model best served our students. Additionally, the school board will be asked to approve a three-year science graduation requirement, changing from the current two-year requirement, beginning with the freshman class in the 2017-18 school year. This new science course sequence is one option outlined in the NGSS for high schools, aligning with the large percentage of CHS high school students who already complete three courses.


Much of the new curriculum focuses on doing and application. Rather than frontloading students with factual information, we encourage students to take a hands-on approach. They explore different applications with materials, see how things react in their environment and then learn the “why”. It’s similar to showing a student that a pencil falls to the ground and explaining gravity, rather than trying to explain gravity out of context.


We started the transition to the new curriculum at Coronado Middle School during the 2013-14 school year. For the last three and a half years, our CMS science teachers have been fully invested in embracing NGSS shifts. In fact, our team even spearheaded writing their own curriculum in the absence of ones meeting the new standards.  New students are gravitating, no pun indented, toward this new approach. It’s heightening the learning experience by deepening understanding and application of science theories, as well as the accompanying math and literacy woven into the lessons.


Our 9-12th grade teachers are currently in a planning year, and will be starting the full implementation of NGSS in the 2017-2018 school year. While we currently have the standards, the state of California will not be adopting new NGSS-aligned curricula for a few more years. The State wants teachers to understand the instructional shifts first before choosing new instructional resources.


For our elementary schools, we are gradually making the transition, beginning with grades 3-5. We bought a curriculum, NGSS Foss Kits from Delta Education, which includes hands-on lab materials and accompanying lessons. We’re focusing on the hands-on lessons for these grades since they feed into the already implemented new curriculum at the middle school. The transition for grades K-2 will begin in the 2017-18 school year.


This new framework for instruction is just that: new. We are exceptionally proud of our science departments for spearheading the change and their dedication to raising the bar on science education in San Diego County.


We are confident that we will see the fruits of their labor in the results of the new assessment in 2019. Rather than adhering to the traditional multiple-choice format, this performance-based test will blend scenarios, open answer and multiple-choice questions. We will see a field test in the spring of 2018, which will give more insights to what the assessment has in store, and students in grades 5, 8, and 12 will participate in a pilot assessment this coming spring.  


Ultimately, the new standards boil down to better educating students across the United States in science. With NGSS instruction in year four at the middle school, we can say that the efforts so far have been a huge success. Students love the material, and are more engaged than ever.


We are looking forward to even more positive feedback as we roll out the programs in the other grades.