K-12 New Science Standards

The National Science Education Standards, or NSES, were established in 1996 by the National Research Council, as a targeted set of objectives for teachers, administrators, and students to achieve throughout their educational and professional development. The NSES outline what each student should know, understand, and be able to perform at each grade level in the fields of life science, physical science, and Earth and astronomical science. The NSES also include teaching and assessment criteria as well as overall district support and programs to improve scientific literacy. The standards were revised in 2013, and new guidelines, known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), were developed by a consortium of 26 state leaders and science and teaching representatives. The NGSS prioritize critical thinking and problem solving over rote memorization, promoting big ideas and tackling issues such as environmentalism and energy conservation to better prepare students for future scientific challenges.

1. Elementary Standards

The standards for grades K-5 place an emphasis on understanding earthly materials, like soil, rocks, and water, as well as objects in the day and night sky. Students will study the properties of these objects and materials and how they relate to one another, affecting changes in the environment and biological organisms. Students will focus on collecting and analyzing patterns and data in order to develop explanations such as simple cause and effect. Questioning, communication, and deep discussion of ideas will be encouraged.

2. Middle School

The NGSS call for far more science in middle school (generally grades 5-8.) Students will build upon earlier teachings and further explore life cycles, Earth’s history, and closely related systems such as matter and energy, populations and ecosystems, and Earth’s place within its solar system. Unlike previous curriculums, there will be a particular emphasis on climate change and the importance of science and technology to environmental concerns. Students will learn about the history of science and the advancements and possibilities of technological design.

3. High School

Students in grades 9-12 will delve deeper into the studies of matter, energy, and chemistry, exploring elements, Earth’s energy sources and processes, and plate tectonics. High school students will have a greater comprehension of more abstract ideas and phenomena, including the origin of the universe, atomic and molecular structure, and biological evolution. They will study the impacts of human population and behavior on the environment, but they will also learn more about the nature of science itself, from historical perspectives to current advances and future challenges.

The Next Generation Science Standards are taught in conjunction with the Common Core Standards, ensuring that as students study science, they are also using their reading, writing, and mathematical skills. With a greater focus on scientific inquiry and problem solving techniques, educators believe students will be better prepared for college and future career paths. A great many changes and advances have taken place in the last few decades; the NGSS were developed to standardize science education across the nation, thereby increasing basic scientific comprehension and hopefully leading more graduates to pursue technological and scientific fields and careers. Refocusing how science is taught and understood in the nation’s schools better prepares students to become knowledgeable consumers and informed citizens in a rapidly changing world.