Approaching Next Generation Science Standards in Teaching & Assessment

Schoolgirl using laptop during computer class to take an assessment at elementary school.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have changed the way that educational institutions approach teaching science. The standards, adopted by 18 states, have also impacted the way that educators today need to assess learning in science. Even states that have not adopted the NGSS formally are moving towards learning standards or assessments that are similar to the NGSS stylistically. 

So, what does this mean for teachers? In short, the emergence of Next Generation Science Standards calls for a shift away from traditional assessment styles where students are asked to regurgitate information on a test and instead places a focus on the process of science and deeper learning. The three principles that NGSS hone in on are: 

  • Scientific and Engineering Practices
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas
  • Cross-Cutting Concepts 

There is an expectation that students demonstrate evidence of deep learning, experience scientific practices, learn core ideas, and connect scientific concepts across disciplines. The end goal is that students can utilize science and scientific thinking in their everyday life. 

Next Generation Science Standards: What they are and Why Why they Matter

The Next Generation Science Standards are the set of learning targets and goals that students need to meet as they progress through their schooling in the United States. Within the NGSS, learning is broken down into more process-oriented and deep-thinking tasks rather than rote memorization or fact-based learning. This change has many benefits for both students and teachers alike. 

With NGSS-aligned lessons and assessments, students are asked to delve deeply into concepts and make meaning through experiences. Early reports from implementing the NGSS into learning show

  • An increase in student excitement and engagement 
  • A more inclusive learning environment
  • Higher participation
  • Evidence of higher-level learning

The benefits of the Next Generation Science Standards do not stop with students but also extend to educators as well. Within the standards, educators have flexibility in how they may approach teaching. The standards allow teachers to teach the process of science in a natural, uncontrived manner where students can use scientific processes to learn about STEM concepts.

Another benefit of the NGGS is that they provide clear-cut learning objectives that make it easy for educators to follow, and also promote nationwide consistency amongst schools when it comes to what to teach. This is achieved without dictating how or in what way lessons need to be taught, which gives teachers the ability to flexibly plan based on student interests and needs. 

Challenges in NGSS Assessments

One of the challenges posed by the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards is that NGSS assessments can be difficult to develop when compared with traditional assessments. For traditional assessments, teachers may only need to create basic questions designed to determine if a student understood the course material. However, in contrast, the nature of NGSS assessments entails that students be provided with opportunities to show scientific processes rather than simply demonstrate knowledge. 

Approaching NGSS assessments also requires that teachers assess more on a continuum of learning rather than compartmentalized topics. This can be challenging as doing so requires educators to develop assessments that circle back on previous learning and are geared more toward progress rather than achievement.

Even though NGSS assessments can be challenging to develop at first, they payoff with higher student engagement and a more accurate picture of what a student can do. Luckily there are many resources available to help educators make the transition to NGSS assessments. 

NGSS Helpful Resources

As NGSS was adopted over 9 years ago, there are resources available to help teachers develop assessments. In general, those resources fall into 3 categories: 

  • Content Resources – there are a variety of content resources available to develop tasks that are similar to NGSS. These include Achieve, the NGSA Collaborative, and the CCSSO Collaborative which all provide resources to help educators develop lessons targeted at the NGSS. 
  • Technology Resources – technology is a game-changer for implementing the NGSS. Technology can be used to make difficult concepts more concrete, as well as to add a level of vibrancy to lessons. Technology-driven assessments allow for the implementation of Universal Design Principles and can develop greater student agency in the science classroom, which is all in line with NGSS. 
  • Assessment Platform Resources – platforms like Open Assessment Technologies allow educators to develop digital assessments in new ways that meet students’ needs on an individual basis. Through the OAT platforms, teachers can develop assessments with Portable Custom Interactions that allow students to engage in content from multiple angles and with multiple outcomes rather than in the traditional manner where the students might be expected to follow a set path. 

Next Steps

The NGSS are driving significant changes in how we educate our students in the science classroom. Through leveraging technology, educators can assess students more accurately and find out what students know and can do, in real-time, putting them on the path to mastering performance expectations.

Check out our white paper on the Next Generation Science Standards in assessment to learn about how OAT can help you to engage students in a more meaningful way with a deep level of understanding and knowledge. Click here to access your free copy.