NGSS – Definition of College and Career Readiness

students_osmosis_labEvery year, students in vocational class build a house. They lay the foundation, build the walls, install the plumbing and wire the electricity. At the end of the year the house is sold and the money goes to fund the next house. It is one of those classes that the community showcases when trying to preserve vocational education programs. One year, I was trying to help a student in an introductory biology class that he needed to graduate. Every morning, John would get on the bus, go build the house and come back to school in the afternoon to try to pass my class and an English class. John already had an apprenticeship lined up for after graduation, but he had to graduate first. Academically, he struggled, and graduation seemed like an impossible task for him. One day, his vocational teacher came to me with a worksheet on the cell and asked me to help him with it so that he could help the student. We got into a discussion about the situation and the vocational teacher had some strong opinions about whether it was really necessary for the kid to know what a mitochondria does when he’s very good at building trades, and has a plan for graduation. I did not disagree with him.

The Next Generation Science Standards have a component called “College and Career Readiness”, and like most standards, we get a little acronym to refer to that component: CCR.  Appendix C of the draft of the NGSS has 13 pages devoted to defining what it actually means to be “career and college ready”, thus justifying all the curriculum and expectation components for students in K-12 education. I will attempt to summarize that 13 page document into what you will need to know as teachers and how this will affect your curriculum.


CCR starts with providing a list of things students should be able to do.

1. Applying a blend of Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) to make sense of the world and approach problems not previously encountered by the student, new situations, new phenomena, and new information;
2. Self-directed planning, monitoring, and evaluation;
3. Applying knowledge more flexibly across various disciplines through the continual exploration of Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and DCIs;
4. Employing valid and reliable research strategies; and
5. Exhibiting evidence of the effective transfer of mathematics and disciplinary literacy skills to science.

This reminds me of past standards that used buzz words like “scientific literacy”, “critical thinking”, “problem-solving”. What’s interesting about these terms is that they are very difficult to define and even more difficult to measure. Teachers will be required to develop critical thinking skills in their students, ensure that their students are scientifically literate, but have no real way to assess the progress of individual students. Can you think of any way to measure how critical a student’s thinking is? Perhaps you could give them problems to solve, some kind of creative assessment would reveal just how well you have accomplished those goals, but in my experience, these creative assessments just serve to confuse the students. On the one hand, we have a pile of core facts that we ask students to learn, like John’s worksheet on the cell. The NGSS has hundreds of pages of these concepts for students to learn, but in the end, college and career readiness has nothing in it on the mitochondria. Presumably, they want John to be able to solve a problem, which I’m sure he does every day in building trades.

The appendix goes on to discuss the idea that the traditional method of science instruction (lecture) should be replaced with more student-centered approaches that support problem-solving skills and conceptual understanding. The idea of cross-cutting concepts also appears frequently in this document, to suggest that science is not a stand-alone discipline, but is something that is integrated into math, English, and vocational subjects. These are all great ideas, and most science teachers would agree and probably even argue that these are things they are already doing in their science classes.

Furthermore, the document defines the terms: College and Career Ready as:

a. “College ready” indicates preparation for credit-bearing course work in two- or four-year colleges, without the need for remediation and with a strong chance for earning credit toward a designated program or degree.
b. “Career ready” indicates preparation for entry-level positions in quality jobs and career pathways that often require further education and training.

In addition, the document includes several sources of research to support these definitions, and makes a case that almost all career paths will require some form of STEM education.  There are 16 identified career clusters (careertech.org).  The case for science education is also made with regard to post-secondary certificates, though this section does not include any examples of those certificate requirements.

16clustergroup

 Final Thoughts

I am still concerned with the conceptual framework of the NGSS and what lies in the details.    If we are supposed to produce problem solving, critical thinking, self directed students, then our day to day activities  must include an approach that gives students the tools and time to develop these skills.  The other pages of the NGSS that I’ve skimmed seem to look more like the current science standards, with their grocery list of terms, concepts, and processes that students should know before the test.    I’m afraid that we can’t have it both ways, or at least some of the details will need to move to the background to accommodate  problem based learning.   The time spent teaching students all the details of the cell, the cell drawings, the types of cells and the myriad of cellular processes takes time and really is most easily accomplished with the traditional model of instruction – lecture, reading, and practice.     We can, in theory, supplement that cell lesson with a medical case study on a person who has Tay Sach’s disease to show how the malfunction of certain cell processes can lead to a fatal disease.   A creative teacher might even start with the case study first and build the student’s knowledge directly from that process.   As educators, we need to make some tough decisions about what we expect our students to KNOW, versus what we expect them to DO.    How much time will I spend having students memorize the parts of the cell when they can just look it up in under 10 seconds in their hand held devices?   The answer isn’t simple and coming to a consensus won’t be easy.

The assessments to determine whether the standards are being met will be where we see what the true expectation is.  Is the test going to look at whether Johnny can label that cell part and tell me what the mitochondria does or is it going to ask him to solve a puzzle about the cell, or suggest a diagnosis for someone with a cellular abnormality.    Our current tests seem to be only testing acquired knowledge, and with the ACT, the ability to read complex texts and graphs.  I am afraid that teachers once again are going to have choose between lecturing to teach to the test, or doing what they know is best for brain development and critical thinking skills.