Science for all students really means science for ALL.

The New York State Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS) were presented to the Board of Regents in June, with an anticipated adoption this fall. These new standards, based on the NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and embodying The Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council, 2012), were designed and intended to be for all students. This might not seem new, but in fact it is. The previous science reform initiatives, in the post-Sputnik area, had a focus on creating more engineers and scientists. The new and explicit goal of science standards for all students is articulated frequently in the Framework and NGSS. In fact the topic has a dedicated chapter in the Framework and the NGSS Appendix D, All standards, all students”. This appendix also includes seven case studies illustrating the NGSS implementation with diverse student groups in science classrooms. These case studies are available on the NGSS website (and also in Lee, Miller, & Januszyk, 2015).

The shift in focus, to a set of science standards for all students, is articulated on the first page of the Framework:

The overall 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 practices 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 the science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology (NRC, 2012, p. 1).

Thus, the goal of science standards for all was a guiding principle in the design of the NGSS. In fact, the three dimensional architecture of the standards is an overarching support for all students as “the convergence of core ideas, practices, and crosscutting concepts across subject areas offers multiple entry points to build and deepen understating” (NGSS Appendix D, 2013, p. 27).

The focus on students’ engaging in the eight scientific and engineering practices, to develop an understanding of scientific concepts, is another factor that supports all students. The practices require classroom learning environments in which students are engaging in the sense making of phenomena or problems, not ingesting the results of an “expert’s” sense making. Focusing on students’ thinking and students’ use of their own language, rather than the regurgitation of formal science terminology, inherently allows more access to science learning for all students. Thus, student engagement in the practices can support their science learning as well as their language learning (NGSS Appendix D, 2013). Students who are English language learners or have language or literacy difficulties have the ability to learn science as a practice:

When supported appropriately, these students are capable of learning science through their emerging language and by comprehending and carrying out sophisticated language functions (e.g., arguing from evidence, construction explanations, developing models) using less-than-perfect English. By engaging in such practices, moreover, they simultaneously build on their understanding of science and their language proficiency (i.e., capacity to do more with language) (NGSS Appendix D, 2013, p. 29).

Crosscutting concepts, or overarching themes that can be applied through all disciplines of science, are a second component that supports all students. The explicit identification and associated requirement of purposeful instruction to support students learning and understanding of the crosscutting concepts is new, even though the crosscutting concepts themselves have always existed in science. The inclusion of the crosscutting concepts explicitly supports science learning for all students:

Through the NGSS, explicit teaching of crosscutting concepts enables less privileged students, most from non-dominate groups, to make connections among big ideas that cut across science disciplines. This could result in leveling the playing field for students who otherwise might not have exposure to such opportunities (NGSS Appendix D, 2013, p. 30).

As the crosscutting concepts connect all science disciplines, they will also help students see the connections between the disciplines. They have the potential to become intellectual and thought tools that students can use to support their science learning.

The limited number of disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) in the standards is a third architectural component that supports all students. DCIs must be broad, be a foundation for more complex science concepts, relate to students’ life or society, and be accessible to both younger and older students (NRC, 2012). Thus, the DCIs allow some flexibility as various phenomena could be used as an entry point to same scientific concept because a DCI is a fundamental science concept. To support science for all, it is critical that instruction be designed around phenomena that students can experience first-hand: “When phenomena and problems are placed in home and community contexts, diverse students build on their everyday experiences and language to make connections among school science and home and community” (Januszyk, Miller & Lee, 2016, p. 29).

The standards alone are not sufficient to ensure equitable science learning opportunities for all students. We must provide curriculum materials, instructional practices, cohesive K-12 learning opportunities, and assessments that support all students in science: “Issues related to equity and diversity become even more important when standards are translated into curricular and instructional materials and assessments” (NRC, 2012, p. 277). Our work towards providing all students equitable access to high-quality science instruction begins with the opportunity the new standards provide students. Our world is becoming more complex and our national and classroom population more diverse. All students must have access to a science education that will support their participation in our complex world. This participation requires a deep understand of science (NRC, 2012). The new science standards “call for all students to learn academically rigorous science, become science and career ready, and take part in the global community (Januszky et al., 2012, p. 28). Now we must begin to maximize the opportunity the new standards provide for all students.

Hehl_Jessica_150pxJessica Hehl
OCM BOCES Center for Innovative Science Education




  • Januszyk, R., Miller, E., & Lee, O., (2016). Addressing student diversity and equity: The Next Generation Science Standards are leading a new wave of reform. Science and Children, 53 (8): 28-31.
  • Lee, O., Miller, E., & Januszyk, R. (Eds.). (2015). NGSS for all students. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association.
  • National Research Council (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press
  • NGSS Lead States (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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