Policy Documents

Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards

Paul R. Gross with Douglas Buttrey, Ursula Goodenough, Noretta Koertge, Lawrence Lerner, Martha Schwartz, and Richard Schwartz –
June 13, 2013

In this report, the authors contend that the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), are highly flawed. Having carefully reviewed the standards, however, using substantially the same criteria as we previously applied to state science standards—criteria that focus primarily on the content, rigor, and clarity of K–12 expectations for this key subject—our considered judgment is that NGSS deserves a C.

Only a year ago, twenty-six state science standards received grades of D or F from our reviewers, while twelve also earned Cs. Just thirteen jurisdictionsone in fourhad standards worthy of honors grades. Only seven earned grades in the A range. (You can see which in the table below.) As is widely understood, weak standards are not the only—or the most worrisome—problem facing science education in the United States in 2013. Achievement in this field has been dismal. The most recent appraisals by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2009) found barely one-third of fourth graders at or above the “proficient” level in science, followed by a mere 30 percent in eighth grade and an embarrassing 21 percent at the end of high school. Other studies have shown that just 30 percent of U.S. high school graduates are prepared for college-level work in science.

By international standards, our performance in science is even worse. According to results from the most recent PISA assessment (released in 2010), fifteen-year-olds in the United States ranked twenty-third out of sixty-five countries. On the 2007 TIMSS science assessment, U.S. eighth graders overall ranked eleventh out of forty-eight nations, with only 10 percent of American students scoring at or above the TIMSS “advanced” level.

In short: American science education at the K12 level needs a radical upgrade. And in our estimation, such an upgrade begins with dramatic improvements in the expectations that drive curriculum, teaching, learning, and assessment in this crucial realm. Evaluated against our criteria (spelled out in Appendix A), NGSS earned a higher score than the standards currently in place in twenty-six states (and they are clearly superior to the standards of at least sixteen of those states).2 If schools in those states aligned their curricula and instruction to the NGSS, their students would likely be better off when it comes to science education.