The Center’s CA Insights – 2017-18:
Spotlight on the Next Generation
Science Standards (NGSS)

Over the course of this year’s research cycle, we’ve unpacked the landscape of California State Standards implementation by examining key drivers of implementation such as Funding, Professional Learning, and Instructional Shifts. Now, we look across those domains to explore how districts are approaching implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. As we learn in this domain, NGSS implementation on the whole is still proceeding slowly, as district capacity lags behind the state’s planned timeline.

Finding 1:

Districts report a disconnect between the timeline for NGSS and capacity to implement. They’re constrained by a complexity of factors including inadequate instructional resources, and lack of bandwidth in the midst of ongoing math and ELA challenges.


*Source: 2017 District Leader Interviews

In Their Own Words: District Leaders on Next Generation Science Standards Implementation

Right now, we have focused on ELA and math, so I would say it’s [funding toward NGSS] not comparable right now. Down the road, it is going to depend on how much [funding] we get. Once we know, then we can try to figure that out.”

– District Leader on Funding

“NGSS is a big shift… I think [it’s] taking [us] to new heights in the re-engineering of science education. Because of that and because of that foundational work that began long ago, we’ve been previewing that for the last several years. We’ve used that preview to do things like, so far, adopt a new course design at the middle ranks.”

– District Leader on Instructional Shifts

“It is hard to find good, deeply rooted, science people. That is an issue that we all have. I don’t want teachers to see NGSS as an add-on.

– District Leader on Professional Learning

“One of the biggest barriers, especially for science is, ‘Here’s the NGSS. Go for it! We’re picking up your old textbooks. We’re going to test you in a year but we’re not going to give you curriculum for another three years.’ [So] you get online and you’re spending hours researching. Some people say this is NGSS and [then you] come to find out that after three more trainings really what you thought was NGSS you had no clue really what NGSS was. They [the policy leaders] try to implement this stuff without a plan.”

– District Leader on Key State & District Supports

“Teachers have so little time to spend on doing their own research that, I really want to be able to provide them the core materials and any additional supplemental so they don’t have to go out, finding all their materials.”

– District Leader on Instructional Materials

“I don’t feel like I can do more than [what we’re doing] right now. It isn’t because of funding; it’s because I feel like they’re [the teachers] not yet where we need them to be with ELA and math for me to add NGSS to the juggling.”

– District Leader on Implementation Approach & Vision



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Finding 2:

Half of all district leaders we spoke with have not begun allocating funds toward NGSS implementation. An additional quarter of district leaders report still being in the planning stages for funding NGSS implementation.

Funding Approaches to Next Generation Science Standards Implementation

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A Tale of Four Districts: Four Approaches to Funding Implementation*

District A – Wait and see

Students Served

  • English learner: 25%
  • Free and reduced lunch eligible: 70%

2017 CAASPP Results

  • Standard met or exceeded in ELA: 35%
  • Standard met or exceeded in math: 25%

“It’s a talking point right now, but if you were to look at our budget… I don’t see much focus on NGSS. We de-prioritized as much professional development [as possible]… We’ve put more into ELA and math. That’s something that just came up in an LCAP session I had last week, is that we need to start making sure that we really start focusing on getting our teachers ready for NGSS and, of course, the curriculum that will be coming out soon.”

District B – Forgoing implementation until funding is available

Students Served

  • English learner: 25%
  • Free and reduced lunch eligible: 60%

2017 CAASPP Results

  • Standard met or exceeded in ELA: 40%
  • Standard met or exceeded in math: 30%

Our push and priority has been around [ELA and ELD where] we are pouring a good amount of resources with our coaches, consultants, trainers, [and] staff development. We’re having to… put [NGSS and social studies] on the back burner a little bit because money is running a bit short in those areas now… Adoptions will be delayed, driven by expense.”

District C – Actively using funds to implement

Students Served

  • English learner: 20%
  • Free and reduced lunch eligible: 45%

2017 CAASPP Results

  • Standard met or exceeded in ELA: 30%
  • Standard met or exceeded in math: 20%

“We’re using our Educator Effectiveness [grant] to fund [NGSS] this year. I would say this year has come on pretty strong. We have some great teacher leaders who, again, have gone to all the county training [and] shared [what they learned] at the school sites. We spent a lot of time when NGSS came out using our funds to pool our teachers into specific professional [learning] days for NGSS standards. We have purchased curriculum to assist in the implementation of NGSS. I would say the only difference is we do not have science specialists at site. We’re not struggling to figure out what we’re going to do. We have made sure that that was something we knew was coming down the pipe, so [we] tried to prepare for that and there hasn’t been any expenditure for NGSS so far that we said no [to].”

District D – Still in planning stage of funding implementation

Students Served

  • English learner: 30%
  • Free and reduced lunch eligible: 65%

2017 CAASPP Results

  • Standard met or exceeded in ELA: 50%
  • Standard met or exceeded in math: 30%

We’re going to need a lot of equipment. We’re going to need so many different things. [It] has been helpful to start to set aside funds so that we’re prepared for the implementation of NGSS. This is a big shift. It’s no longer cookie-cutter labs. It’s now investigations where you need to have a variety of different resources for kids to solve problems and have the technology and equipment that students need access to so that they can solve the problems. It’s a lot of training for our teachers, too, on how to teach differently.

*Demographics rounded to nearest 5% for anonymity

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Finding 3:

District leader perceptions suggest that teachers may not yet have had time to benefit from the training and practice needed to master the instructional shifts demanded by the Next Generation Science Standards.



In Their Own Works: District Leaders – Based on what you’ve learned from implementing the math and ELA standards, what would you do differently for NGSS?

“Definitely for NGSS, focusing on the standards and the frameworks. I would spend more time with that in conjunction with the professional learning. [That’s] one of the things that I don’t think we did enough with the professional learning [for math and ELA].”

– District Leader

“We definitely have to have a multi-year plan. What I know about the NGSS standards is it’s a wholesale change for folks, so it’s going to have to be a multi-pronged approach, but we’re not even at the point where we’ve been able to [think about that]. We haven’t had those conversations. I don’t know what that looks like.”

– District Leader

“One is, we [need to] go slower. That’s for sure. I think we’ve raced at a fast pace and I think it’s killing teachers and it’s too much and they’re not absorbing it at a deeper level. Going slower. What we’re doing now is we’re frontloading [focusing on the standards] before we even get near the [textbook] adoption.”

– District Leader

“We’ve piloted a lot [of curricula] but teachers didn’t know enough about what they needed in the beginning to know [about NGSS]. And I’m glad we didn’t purchase anything [right away]… We went without [a purchased curriculum] and put our own together with NGSS. I really am hopeful that we’ll be able to have some materials that we can say, ‘Hey, here’s the expectation and the standard and here are materials that’ll help you get there.’

– District Leader

“I think we started too broad… I think we need to be really clear when we’re implementing something new that even though the new curriculum or the breadth of standards might be broad, we really need to focus people and focus our professional development on a few really key pieces and… have a clear understanding of what those pieces are so that they can better roll them out at their sites. I think we made a lot of assumptions about what was or was not going to be comfortable for teachers [in ELA and math]. And so, we had to back way up and just break things down so that people felt more supported and more willing to try things in their classrooms.”

– District Leader

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