Understanding NGSS: What, Who, Why and When

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are the newest entrant in the science-teaching playground, and they are already making a big change in the way the subject is being taught. Changes can seem a bit scary, so we thought it would be worth putting together a blog post on the whatwhowhy and when of NGSS.


What is NGSS?

NGSS stands for Next Generation Science Standards: a set of science standards designed to reflect the interconnectedness of science as it is practised in the real world. This is done through three dimensions of the NGSS: crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, and science and engineering practices.All three are designed to work together to build a comprehensive understanding of science over time.


Who formulated the NGSS?

That’s a great question. It’s difficult to trust anything without knowing where it came from, so why should NGSS be any different? Well, the good news is that NGSS is very much a “for the teachers, by the teachers” initiative. Twenty-six states have participated in the formulation of NGSS, and a number of leading science organisations (such as The National Academy of Science, The National Science Teachers Association, Achieve, and The American Association for the Advancement of Science) have also made important contributions.



Science and the teaching of science has been an issue the US has grappled with for a while now. According to the recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test: The US ranks at no. 24 in Science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.


States have previously used the National Science Education Standards (from the National Research Council) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy (from the American Association for the Advancement of Science) to guide the development of their current state science standards. While these are comprehensive guidelines, they have been in use for 15 years and are virtually out of date when it comes to keeping pace with the rate of scientific advancement and achievements.


NGSS is therefore designed not just to teach young people science, but also to encourage and cultivate curiosity and sense of scientific thought at a young age, through a three-dimensional learning process.


When is NGSS coming to town?

This question requires a slightly more complicated answer. The document setting out the framework for NGSS was published in 2011, and the final Next Generation Science Standards – a new set of internationally benchmarked standards for K-12 science education – were released in 2013. Tracking state adoptions of the Next Generation Science Standards, however, has been a bit tricky. Achieve, the group that led the development of the common science standards, doesn’t keep a map on its website. There isn’t one on the Next Generation Science Standards website, either. Some states have also been quiet about their adoption decisions; it seems likely that this is to avoid drumming up the kind of controversy that’s characterised the Common Core State Standards. As of April 2016, 18 states and DC had adopted NGSS. Some states are adopting the standards with a caveat: in 2017, the Idaho Senate Education Committee joined the House Education Committee in deleting standards regarding the human impact on climate change. Lawmakers say they want more balance in the standards, and that this means examining all views on climate change. There is hope, however, that these changes are temporary and that other states will adopt NGSS soon, just as it is.

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