Michael Kirst

Michael Kirst

A strong science education is an important part of learning for students at all grade levels. California’s new science standards emphasize science in early grades and ensure students use what they learn in connection with other core subjects. The new standards help students solve problems, think creatively and make sense of a rapidly changing world.

California is among a short list of states that has adopted cutting-edge science standards, known nationally as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The new science standards were adopted by the State Board of Education in 2013 on the heels of the state’s new school funding formula, granting local districts the authority to determine their own implementation timelines for the new standards.

It’s important to note that implementation of all state-approved academic standards is among the priorities outlined in the new funding formula and required in local accountability plans.

Trish Williams

Trish Williams

California has set the foundation for a greater focus on instructional quality and ensuring that students graduate ready for the world that awaits them. Some of California’s and the nation’s fastest growing occupations are in science, technology, engineering and math. California’s economic growth now far outpaces that of the nation, with a sizeable portion of new jobs in the state’s tech industry.

California’s new standards require that a full science education be made available to all students from elementary through middle school. All high school students will be exposed to the new standards in their regular coursework, not just students in specialized or advanced programs. The new science standards hold promise to reduce opportunity gaps for girls, Latinos, African Americans, English learners, students with disabilities, low-income students and others who have been historically underrepresented in science education and careers.

The momentum generated by the new science standards in California is noteworthy. Thousands of educators, students, parents and stakeholders are involved in early implementation efforts. A broad coalition of business, higher education officials, science leaders and other science champions is working in collaboration with county and district leaders to build public awareness and support for the science standards. The State Board of Education and the California Department of Education are working on new instructional resources and new assessments that make sense for our state.

The state board recently approved a timeline for new science tests aligned with the standards to be fully implemented in the next three years, with pilot testing beginning next spring. To support this plan, the California Department of Education is recommending that the board approve the elimination of the old science tests, which California is still required to administer, and request a federal waiver to not double test students. Plus, the state board and the department are exploring how new science resources can be made available to teachers electronically through the Digital Library.

Comments by newly confirmed Education Secretary John King Jr., give us hope that we can create a smooth path forward on science implementation for California. Under No Child Left Behind, shame and blame were drivers. Nationwide, districts doubled down on time spent on English and math at the expense of time given to science education. Those NCLB days are over.

“The good news here is that the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act makes the work to provide a well-rounded education to all students easier,” King said in widely publicized speech last month.

It is time for districts to begin the process of implementing the new science standards in our local schools. This begins by asking how local teachers and students are being supported for success with these new science standards. What are the local goals that help ensure these new standards are fully implemented for all students? How are these goals being described in local accountability plans?

Resources are available to get started. The California Science Teachers Association, K12 Alliance at WestEd, and California Science Project and the California Department of Education are offering professional learning for administrators and teachers. A new science framework is under development and soon will be available for public review. It includes grade span chapters with classroom snapshots and longer vignettes to help teachers understand the pedagogical shifts the new standards require.

Local Control Funding Formula base funding can be used immediately to support science implementation; it is also possible that supplemental or concentration funding may be appropriate depending on the activity and the student populations. In addition, the federal education department has issued guidance to states suggesting different ways schools can use federal money to expand learning in science, technology, and other subjects.

It’s time for districts and charter schools to review and update their local accountability plans. Ensuring that science education is part of all students’ access to a broad and engaging curriculum is a critical conversation for district leaders, teachers, parents and stakeholders to start now.


Michael Kirst is President of the California State Board of Education and Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University. Trish Williams is a state board member and a liaison for the Next Generation Science Standards and computer science.

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the authors. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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  1. wang 4 years ago4 years ago

    STOP Common Core !

    Same as Common Core, NGSS is nothing but gas and hot air


    • Don 4 years ago4 years ago

      Well, since hot air is, in fact, gas – you must be right!

  2. K.Meier 4 years ago4 years ago

    It will be important for these pioneering states to provide resource materials (student textbooks, teacher editions, etc. in addition to the framework) to the teachers BEFORE accountability in the form of the standardized test is implemented (2018-2019). Teachers and students need to be set up for success.


    • Don 4 years ago4 years ago

      Getting the proper science instructional materials in place in advance sounds like a no brainer. Too bad they didn’t do it for Math. So I’m a little skeptical about the prospects for science.

  3. Jennifer Peck 4 years ago4 years ago

    It is wonderful and overdue that we are bringing focus to the importance of science education, which received little attention for far too long. A place where much more science learning has been happening, and we need to continue to capitalize on, is in our after school and summer programs. These programs are so well suited for project-based, hands-on activities, for experimentation, and creative learning that can complement science in the classroom. … Read More

    It is wonderful and overdue that we are bringing focus to the importance of science education, which received little attention for far too long. A place where much more science learning has been happening, and we need to continue to capitalize on, is in our after school and summer programs. These programs are so well suited for project-based, hands-on activities, for experimentation, and creative learning that can complement science in the classroom. Summer programs are an especially great venue, with the opportunity for multiple weeks of focus on science activities, including outdoor learning experiences. With the right training and preparation, community based organizations can work very effectively with teachers to deliver fun science lessons over the summer that build skills students must have to meet our new science standards. See http://partnerforchildren.org/summer-stem/ for a Summer STEM Brief which collected data from a three-year Summer STEM initiative, and offers best practices, lessons learned, and resources to help districts implement STEM learning in their summer programs.