Most people agree that a well-rounded science education must provide students with both content knowledge and facility with the practices of scientific inquiry. That is why both facts and skills should be clearly represented in the science standards adopted by states.
As the Fordham Institute demonstrated in its evaluation of the final draft of the Next Generation Science Standards, however, by giving “undue prominence” to scientific skills and practices, the NGSS ultimately underemphasize content knowledge. As a result, the NGSS are an inadequate guide for science teachers—like me—who need to know what is expected of our students and us.
What form, then, should practices take in science standards? There may be numerous ways of integrating practices into standards documents, but as a science teacher I appreciate in them at least two qualities.
First, clearly and specifically articulate the practices in which students should be able to engage.
This may seem obvious, but even the skills-heavy NGSS often fall short in this regard.
For example, the NGSS’s middle school “waves and electromagnetic radiation” standards require that students “[d]evelop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.” This does sound vaguely scientific, but since it is unclear what would make an adequate model—or even what is meant by “model” —this provides little practical guidance for teachers.
In contrast, consider California’s “Investigation and Experimentation” standards for sixth graders, which demand that students “[c]onstruct appropriate graphs from data and develop qualitative statements about the...