Student access to science for all | Chalkboard Project

Student access to science for all

Monday, April 21, 2014 Ford Morishita

In March of this year, the Oregon State Board of Education officially adopted the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) as the new Oregon Science Standards. We became the 10th state to do so, out of 26 lead states who declared their intentions to join the NGSS effort. These new science standards were intended to lay a clear foundation for not only what all K-12 students should know and do, but to also underscore the connection between Science and Common Core ELA (English Language Arts)/Math standards and practices. And while new NGSS assessments to measure this knowledge and skills are under development (led by Achieve), a larger question looms: How will NGSS be made accessible to all students in Oregon?

Nationally, our student population has become increasingly diverse in the classroom. This diversity includes a wide range of Non-Dominant Student Groups, such as economically disadvantaged students, racial or ethnic minority students, students with disabilities, and English language learners. Over time, these students have traditionally been underserved across all subject areas and domains of learning. NGSS developers addressed this topic, and made equity a high priority in the implementation process.

Beyond the new architecture of NGSS standards and practices, which includes performance expectation targets, there are a number of Appendices which further support NGSS implementation and delivery of instruction. One appendix is devoted entirely to equity (see Appendix D: “All Standards, All Students”: Making the NGSS Accessible to All Students). This section serves as the basis for why access to NGSS for all students is vital, not only in terms of how to access and assess science learning, but to also provide learning opportunities that promotes success for all students of science. Moreover, this appendix defines in clear terms what student diversity is, learning demands for non-dominant student groups, inclusion of engineering and CCSS ELA and Math, and effective classroom strategies designed to deliver research-based instruction which compliments implementation of NGSS. Suggestions for community connections to school science and valuable school resources to support science instruction are also highlighted.

Perhaps the most significant instructional resource in Appendix D centers on seven Case Studies, which provides deep and rich instructional strategies for making NGSS accessible to each of the seven diversity groups of students. Each case study is built upon an NGSS content/concept, and offers resource materials appropriate for a prescribed grade level and target student group. Ongoing professional development for practitioners will be needed, not only to arm science teachers with new instructional tools, but to also build teacher capacity across all subject areas, working together to seamlessly improve equal access to all learning standards and practices.

The NRC (National Research Council) has released several consensus studies recently, Taking Science to School (2007), Ready, Set, Science (2009), and A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2012). Besides making a strong case for why new science standards were necessary for how students currently learn science, these reports reveal that when diverse groups of students are provided with appropriate learning opportunities, these students are capable of “engaging in scientific practices and constructing meaning in both science classrooms and informal settings.” The stakes for provision of equal access to NGSS has never been higher. This equity push comes at a time when the Chalkboard Project has proposed a strategic framework tied to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Oregon. The time has come for all stakeholders to support this effort. We all must ensure that every student, every day, has an equal opportunity to achieve science literacy goals, which leads to a promising career pathway and economic prosperity. Ultimately, isn’t this the point of raising our educational standards? The future of our “next generation” of Oregonians deserve more than our commitment to achieve this goal. They need our promise too.

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Author’s Note: While a deep examination of the entire NGSS framework is necessary to understand the conceptual shifts to these science standards, the intention of this blog entry was to focus solely on NGSS equity considerations. (This note is probably unnecessary, but as a reader, I might wonder why so little is discussed about the NGSS itself.)


Ford Morishita is a member of the Chalkboard Project Advisory Council. After teaching science, and coaching for 33 years at the middle and high school levels, he retired in 2011. His interests include STEM literacy across all subjects, early childhood science, bringing bioscience/bioengineering education into the classroom, and NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) implementation. Ford’s professional service includes work at the local, state and national levels. He served as a founding member of the Teachers Advisory Council for the National Research Council, past president for the Oregon Science Teachers Association, and was designated a national associate of the National Academies. He has a B.S. in Biology and an M.A.T. from Lewis and Clark College.

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