Next Generation Science Standards-Based Assessments Are Coming!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

About Next Generation Science Standards

Science-based education is important in providing the know-how that students need to be well-informed citizens, to be adequately prepared for a career, and more importantly, to gain a deep understanding of  science as a discipline. The Next Generation Science Standards, as a proven research-based approach to redefine science education, are therefore  a step in the right direction. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the current education systems are not fully capable of preparing students to perform in an overall manner in science, as a subject. According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, another area of concern is how graduates are not well prepared to perform in sectors that involve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The NGSS, therefore, calls for refocusing the K-12 curricula to improve colleges’ preparation and instruction methods, and for fresh graduates to make more informed decisions.

How does assessment vary with NGSS?

Science classes are usually not designed to facilitate scientific knowledge in and its application by students. The students merely memorize content and solve routine problems, but don’t really understand or learn scientific concepts, as defined by the NGSS. For instance, in 2016, ACT (American College Testing) found 64% of high school graduates taking the test unfit to meet college readiness benchmark levels for biology.

The NGSS takes a considerably different approach, with each performance component including three dimensions – disciplinary core ideas (DCI), science and engineering practices (SEP), and crosscutting concepts (CCC). Considering this view, there is a great deal of emphasis on the fact that diverse scientific fields are not only vast but interconnected by the core performance dimensions as well. In terms of assessment, the teacher makes use of multiple assessment methods, which include formative and summative tasks. Formative tasks are used to guide instructional decisions, while summative tasks are used to assign grades to students. All in all, the emphasis on the interconnectedness of all scientific disciplines, or subjects, is the way that many students learn best.

Challenges for teachers

While the benefits of the NGSS are obvious, the teachers still face a few challenges when it comes to addressing a classroom. In order for the teachers to explain a particular scientific concept to students, they must deliver it in an interactive and practical fashion. However, a lack of resources makes that a tall order for teachers.. For example, how can a teacher practically explain the concept of speed and energy in a classroom? The best way to showcase such a concept would be at a racetrack, but most school budgets are not capable of allocating funds for field trips for every concept in science class. Moreover, many states, districts and schools may choose to modify these standards. With such an emphasis laid upon the teaching methods, teachers will be required to discover and implement different approaches to teaching. However, teachers cannot be held solely accountable for the implementation of a fresh assessment system, which brings us to the next challenge – effective implementation of such an assessment system. This cannot be achieved by simply tweaking the old system. A careful consideration of timelines and priorities coupled with systematic transition to a new assessment system is required. Teachers may want to know the plans and timelines for changes, and on the same note, might also require professional development to make them more competent in their field.

How should teachers prepare?

Teachers could make use of innovative tools, such as digital simulations, animations, game-based learning programs, etc. that enable presenting content to students in an interactive way. These tools allow students to focus on the process, and not just the theory. Simulations are expected to help teachers deliver using the new standards instead of employing traditional learning methods. Teachers may also make use of assessments that are in-line with the NGSS, that not only encourages better participation from students and greater content mastery but also engage them better through interactive medium. However, there’s a fact that cannot be disputed – teachers will require access to resources and teaching material, adequate time for preparation, teacher collaborations, and quality professional development for the effective and efficient implementation of the NGSS Assessments.

The efficacy of the NGSS can only be underscored by a scientist, and according to Carl Wieman, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics, “…successful science education transforms how students think, so that they can understand and use science like scientists do.” In more than one way, the NGSS is a step in the right direction and benefits everyone; since it allows teachers to widen their assessments, students to give coursework deeper thought, and a generally more engaging teacher-student experience.

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