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Helping Parents Understand the Next Generation Science Standards

Among the toughest tasks for districts implementing the Common Core State Standards has been communicating with families about how classroom practice is changing. 

That's been particularly true for the math standards, which many parents have struggled with during homework time since they introduce methods of calculation that plenty of adults never learned. Parents have also been frustrated by curricula that claim to be common-core-aligned but is poorly written, and, some say, misrepresent what the standards intended. 

But efforts to explain the new instructional techniques to families can pay off—I watched a roomful of parents go from skeptical to enthusiastic about the common core after a demonstration of the methods during a parent math day several years ago in Ohio. 

Backlash to the Next Generation Science Standards, on the other hand, has mostly centered on its assertion that humans have contributed to global warming (which nearly all climate scientists agree on). And the pushback has mainly been confined to the state boards and legislatures during debates over adoption. Science teachers, in general, have had a neutral or positive view of the standards.

So far, there's been little talk about how parents have reacted to the standards, which have been officially adopted by 18 states and the District of Columbia. (About a dozen other states are using similar standards based on the same science framework, but without the NGSS label.) But states are preparing to give students tests aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards—next spring, in many places. And as testing pressure mounts, so might questions from parents about the new ways their students are being taught.

Achieve, the group that led the development of the science standards, is working to head off misconceptions about the standards. The group recently released a series of parent guides that explain how science instruction is changing and why. The documents have a simple FAQ-style format and are about four pages long—the kind of thing a teacher could print off and send home with students.

Rather than include examples of the complicated, "three-dimensional" standards, the guides show old vs. new classroom activities. For example, this is from the grade 3-5 guide:

NGSS parent guide 3-5.png

They also explain the difference between "standards" and "curriculum"—terms that are easily and frequently conflated. And as demonstrated by the common core, confusion about the terms can hurt the standards' branding. 

For that reason, the Achieve guides say: "'Standards' provide clarity about what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. 'Curriculum' refers to how students meet those expectations. Please contact your child's teacher or school if you have questions about their curriculum."

Would love to hear from educators in the comments below about how else you're reaching out to parents and whether these kinds of resources would be of help.


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