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AAAS Analysis Sheds Light on Search for Curricula Compatible With New Science Standards


Students working with Project 2061's Toward High School Biology curriculum, which aligns well with the Next Generation Science Standards, researchers said. | AAAS

A new tool for evaluating how well science teaching materials align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) proved useful in three case studies presented at a symposium organized by AAAS' Project 2061 for the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST).

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new science standards for the K-12 classrooms, which emphasize three main "dimensions" of science learning: science practices for investigating the world, crosscutting concepts common to all scientific topics, and core ideas within scientific disciplines. But, adopting the standards is just the first step in a complex process of science education reform.

"Everyone is desperately looking for examples of what [NGSS] looks like in curriculum materials and teaching," said Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061. Educators are also going to need tools and measures they can use to evaluate textbook publishers' claims that their materials are  "NGSS-aligned," she added.

"Everyone is desperately looking for examples of what [NGSS] looks like in curriculum materials and teaching."

Jo Ellen Roseman, Project 2061

An organization named Achieve, which represented states involved in creating the standards, has produced a resource for evaluating curriculum materials' alignment with the NGSS, called the Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) Rubric. The tool is the only one of its kind that is explicitly focused on the NGSS, so Roseman organized work to "road-test" the rubric with a set of three case studies. David Fortus of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Joseph Krajcik of Michigan State University, and Brian Reiser of Northwestern University also participated in the panel.

Using the EQuIP criteria, the panelists evaluated three science curricula, including Project 2061's own Toward High School Biology, which teaches middle school students about key ideas in chemistry and their application to living systems. The program, created in in collaboration with the Colorado-based BSCS group, has been pilot-tested and is due for release next year.

Presenting the preliminary results at the 12-15 April NARST meeting in Chicago, Roseman and her colleagues reported that the EQuIP method helped them identify strengths and weaknesses that can inform revisions to the curricula they had developed, in several key ways. The researchers also deepened their understanding of the concepts and language in the rubric itself, said Roseman. The process was similar to "when Congress passes a bill, and it's when they go to work on regulations that it becomes clear what the bill really means. That's the state of EQuIP," she said.

In each case study, the curriculum's developer and an independent evaluator assessed the curriculum using the criteria in the rubric and reconciled their judgments. The results showed that all three curricula aligned well with NGSS but there were some areas for improvement. For example, the independent evaluator who assessed the Toward High School Biology materials felt the curriculum could do more to make the flow of ideas in the lessons more transparent to students. Roseman and her colleagues at Project 2061 will now revisit this element of the curriculum before its release next year.

Wrong Answers As Teaching Tools?

Project 2061's multiple choice tests include commonly held misconceptions as incorrect answers. Analyzing patterns in these incorrect responses can provide educators with useful information about how students’ thinking changes as they gain a better understanding of the concept being assessed, according to Project 2061 Research Associate Cari Herrmann Abell. In a paper presented at the NARST annual meeting, Abel showed how a detailed analysis of answers in a multiple choice test on elementary-school energy ideas showed which misconceptions were popular and persistent for different students.

The rubric will also be useful, the researchers concluded, in focusing curriculum developers' and teachers' attention on the importance of engaging students with natural phenomena (or in solving problems) and making sense of them in terms of NGSS core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science practices.  

The experts on the panel did have some questions about how widely the EQuIP rubric is likely to be adopted, which reflect some of the broader issues facing educators as they move forward with the NGSS. Noting that all of the researchers who carried out the case studies had been involved in developing the standards, Roseman wondered whether practicing K-12 teachers or administrators would have the same amounts of time and experience to put toward using the tool. Another consideration is whether a material that meets all of the requirements outlined by EQuIP can be taught in the limited time that teachers have available.

"Are [educators] going to have the patience to go through all this? I don't know," said Roseman. But, she said, the presenters in the symposium felt the rubric "is a must for materials developers" who should do the evaluation while they are creating the curricula: "Do it early — don't wait until the end and do a post-hoc evaluation."

Another open question is how readily teachers will embrace new, NGSS-aligned curricula when they must also focus on preparing their students for high-stakes standardized tests. But Roseman said she looks forward to gradual progress.

Complete sets of materials, with all the necessary support for teachers and for monitoring student progress, are still five to 10 years away, she said. But, for now, "there are promising materials that people can use to get started."

"I think if we can just slow down a little bit on the high-stakes assessment and get teachers comfortable using something like Toward High School Biology or units from IQWST then teachers will begin to get a feel for what [the new standards] mean and will start seeing a difference in their students learning," Roseman said.