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The Next Generation of National Science Education Standards

Eric Brunsell

Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh
Related Tags: Assessment, Science
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The National Science Education Standards were published in 1996. The NSES and it's emphasis on "science as inquiry," quickly became a cornerstone of reform efforts and set the tone for a national dialogue about what science teaching should look like. We have learned a lot about effective teaching, curriculum planning, and how students learn science since the original publication of NSES. It is time for the "next generation" of national science standards...and they are on the way.

A few years ago, NSTA began a project called "Science Anchors" to guide science instruction. When it was initially envisioned, leaders felt that it was very unlikely that there would be an environment that would support new national standards. Over the past couple of years, this environment has changed dramatically. The National Governors Association and the Coalition of Chief State School Officers began a serious process to develop "Common Core Standards" in language arts and mathematics. Drafts of these standards were available during the Spring of 2010 and final standards will be released soon at the Common Core site. Almost all states have committed to adopting these core standards.

As a result of this huge environmental shift, NSTA has suspended the Science Anchors project. In its place, NSTA is joining with other organizations (see below) on the development of common national science standards. This is a major development with a very aggressive timeline. NSTA has published a summary report of the Science Anchors project that has identified some of the challenges that need to be addressed in the next generation of science standards. The brief (9 pages) report can be found on the NSTA site.

The report discusses a variety of issues including:

  • Content
  • Specific content in each discipline
  • Crosscutting content
  • Scope
  • 21st-Century Skills
  • Engineering and Technology
  • Teaching Methods
  • Performance Expectations
  • Organization
  • Grade Bands vs. Grade Level
  • High School (course structure vs. competency structure)
  • How much is too much? Depth, Breadth & Specificity

Developing the Next Generation of Science Standards

Before getting in to the details of the process, it is important to understand that these are not federally mandated standards. This process is being driven by a number of non-governmental organizations and is funded by the Carnegie Corporation. At this point, it is not known if the National Governors Association and Coalition of Chief State School Officers will adopt these standards as part of the "Common Core" standards movement. In addition, the "Common Core" standards in language arts and mathematics are not federally mandated. Instead, they are being driven by a partnership between states.

The new science standards are being developed through an unprecedented partnership of the National Academy of Science, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for Advancement of Science, and Achieve Inc. Achieve Inc ( is the lead organization for developing the Common Core mathematics and language arts standards. Although roles overlap, each organization has specific responsibilities.

  • NAS - Drafting a conceptual framework for new science standards.
  • NSTA - Eliciting feedback from the science education community and process transparency.
  • AAAS - Eliciting feedback from the science community
  • Achieve Inc. - Drafting the actual science standards.

This is a major undertaking, with four diverse organizations on a very aggressive timeline. The dates below are therefore tentative.

Conceptual Framework
Development - Winter 2009 / Spring 2010
Public Comment - Summer 2010 (begins in mid-July)
Publication - December 2010

An 18-member NAS panel will draft a conceptual framework that will be used to create the new standards. The panel is composed of prominent scientists from multiple disciplines, science educators, cognitive scientists (how people learn science), mathematicians, engineers, and policy experts. The panel is supported by 5 design teams lead by leading experts. The framework will include guidance for the fundamental concepts (big ideas), sufficient depth, and structure. It is based on the work done in the original standards, AAAS Benchmarks, NAEP 2009 assessment framework, AP redesign, learning progression research, "How Students Learn" publications, and other documents.

The public will have a short window to comment on a draft of the framework during the summer of 2010. NSTA will facilitate feedback from the science education community. AAAS will facilitate feedback from the science community. Achieve Inc. will facilitate feedback from policy stakeholders. The panel will make revisions and publish the conceptual framework in December 2010.

Drafting the Next Generation of Standards
Development: Winter / Spring 2011
Public Feedback: April / May 2011
Publication: December 2011

Achieve Inc. will begin drafting the new standards after the completion of the NAS Conceptual Framework. Achieve Inc focuses on managing the development process and will use expert teams during the writing process. It is envisioned that a large overlap will exist between these writing teams and the design teams involved in the development of the NAS Conceptual Framework. NSTA, AAAS, and Achieve Inc. will facilitate the public vetting process to ensure feedback from stakeholders (scientists, science teachers, policy makers, general public).


Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards

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Eric Brunsell

Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh
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Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Emily's picture

Thanks for the background info! As a science educator, I'm very happy to see that new standards are being created through collaboration. Education and technology have certainly changed in the last 14 years.

Rosemary Perez's picture

I can agree that the new standard are helpful. But I believe part of the problem in the elementary grades is that the teacher do not have the content knowledge and shy away from teaching science especially when math and reading take on more importance in high stakes tests. Teachers need to be more comfortable with the content of the subject to integrate it into the other subjects.

Marianne F. Bates's picture

Science teachers might be interested to know that the Language Arts "common core" standards have objectives which relate to both science reading and writing. These objectives require students to read and comprehend increasing complex scientific informational texts and to write about scientific topics in expository writing. They also have to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize scientific data and write about their findings.

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