April 12, 2021


Jennifer Helms, PhD, RN
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for K-8th grade have been officially adopted by the Arkansas Department of Education and are due to begin their rollout in the fall of 2016. The K-4 standards will begin in 2016, followed by grades 5-8 in 2017, and grades 9-12 in 2018. The standards were written in 2011-2013 and released in April 2013. Here is the timeline.These new standards leave a great deal to be desired, and by that, I mean that they are abysmal. I have read the entire 103-page document; and then I compared the NGSS K-12 standards with the current Arkansas Frameworks standards that can be found here. What I discovered was not just disappointing, it was disturbing.The NGSS began with a framework document, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education” and here is the jewel quote of their document, which enlightens us all to the abominably low level standards we will find in the NGSS:

The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology.


Notice the words or phrases “appreciation,” “possess sufficient knowledge…to engage in public discussions,” “consumers,” “able to continue to learn.” These are science appreciation standards, not science learning/understanding/synthesizing standards. The most startling goal statement of this document is the last one, “have the skills to enter careers of their choice.” This particular goal of the Framework seems outrageous considering the low level standard we see in NGSS.I am a nursing professor, so my interest in the NGSS focuses mainly on biology and human body systems. I want to know if young people coming to college will be prepared for post-secondary science courses which are prerequisite for nursing courses. I am, after all, looking for possible deficiencies so that I can alert my colleagues to what kind of remediation might be needed if the standards were inadequate in any area.I wasn’t prepared for what I found. Or maybe I should say that I wasn’t prepared for what I didn’t find.In the NGSS high school standards (or any of the K-8 standards for that matter), there is NO HUMAN BODY SYSTEM standard whatsoever. No standard specific to human organs, tissues, or function. No anatomy or physiology. I read the entire document looking for something pertaining to a human organ. Any organ. Just an eyeball maybe. Anything.The closest these standards come to a human body standard is the HS-LS1 Section entitled “From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes.” The seven standards contained within this section refer to DNA, multicellular organisms, cellular division, homeostasis, and a few other “structures and processes” at the cellular level. But in the fine print under each one (and I do mean fine print – I really needed some stronger glasses for this), there are clarification statements that specifically state what is not assessed (translation: what is not on the test). And we all know by now that if it isn’t tested, it isn’t taught. And sadly, there is much content listed in this document that “isn’t on the test” and therefore will likely not be taught.

For example, there is no mention of bacteria or viruses. No mention at all. How can that be possible? There are other glaring deficiencies in the NGSS unrelated to life science. For example, the term “climate” is used 58 times, yet the term “electrical circuit” is found only once.  The politically-charged junk science upon which so much climate change discussion is based rears its ugly head in the NGSS document.

To say that the NGSS are inadequate in preparing high school students for any further science study, from technical or vocational programs to university science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) courses, is a colossal understatement. So much for the claims of “rigor.” I’m starting to really hate that word.

And finally, how do our current state standards in science compare with NGSS?

The great state of Arkansas should take a great deal of pride in our current science education standards. They are by far superior to the NGSSThe Fordham Institute reported in their document, Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards, that Arkansas standards are “clearly superior” to the NGSS. They compared the NGSS with all states plus four other frameworks. Arkansas ranked 10th in a list of 56, but despite this, our Department of Education has chosen to adopt the NGSS which are considerably lower in content, depth, and breadth.

The Fordham Institute report details the many deficiencies in the NGSS. Page 10 of the document summarizes it best with this quote:

The NGSS do not define advanced work in the sciences. Based on review from college and career faculty and staff, the NGSS form a foundation for advanced work, but students wishing to move into STEM fields should be encouraged to follow their interest in additional coursework.

Essentially, they are saying that high school students will need to anticipate (while still in high school) that they require additional science courses to fill the gaps, and it is their responsibility to pursue those courses since they won’t get what they need from NGSS. Unfortunately, many high school students do not yet know which field they will pursue. They are still discovering their interests at that point, so it seems unfair to assume that a teenager is going to be able to so clearly plan his/her course of future study while still in high school.The science education standards that we currently have are superior to the newer standards on the horizon. It is my hope that Arkansas will carefully consider the consequences of adoption of the NGSS and reconsider the decision, although I’m not hopeful. I suppose it’s all about the varying definitions of that annoying word “rigor.”
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