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Science Standards: Then and Now

Dee Dee Whitaker
Product Content Manager

July 2018

Many of us are making the shift to the Next Generation Science Standards* (NGSS) and 3 dimensions of learning. So what’s changing? How is the content changing? And where is the instructional emphasis?

This table highlights comparisons between the National Science Education Standards and the NGSS to illustrate some of the changes.

Emphasis of Standards

Then Now
Objectives and Essential Questions Performance Expectations
Understanding scientific concepts Making sense of phenomena and 3-dimensional learning
Developing abilities of inquiry Actively engaged in 8 science and engineering practices
Integrating all aspects of science content Emphasizing crosscutting concepts
Implementing inquiry as instructional strategies, abilities, and ideas to be learned Implementing 3-dimensional learning (integrating science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas)
Activities that investigate and analyze science questions Student-generated questions
Process skills in context Science and engineering practices identified
Using multiple skills 3-dimensional learning
Public communication of student ideas and work to classmates Public communication of student ideas, questions, and making sense of concepts

Science Skills

Skills and Processes Dimension 1: Science and Engineering Practices
Use evidence and strategies for developing or revising an explanation Constructing explanations and designing solutions
Science as argument and explanation Engaging in argument from evidence
Communicating science explanations Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
Analyzing and synthesizing data after defending conclusions Analyzing and interpreting data
Doing more investigations to develop understanding, ability, values of inquiry, and knowledge of science content Planning and carrying out investigations
Using multiple process skills (manipulation, cognitive, or procedural) Developing and using models
Activities that investigate and analyze science questions Asking questions and defining problems
Using evidence and strategies for developing or revising an explanation Developing and using models

Unifying Concepts and Processes

Concepts Dimension 2: Crosscutting Concepts
Systems, order, and organization Patterns
Evidence, models, and explanation Cause and effect: mechanism and explanation
Constancy, change, and measurement Scale, proportion, and quantity
Evolution and equilibrium Systems and system models
Form and function Energy and matter: flows, cycles, and conservation

Structure and function

Stability and change


Content Standards Dimension 3: Disciplinary Core Ideas

Life Science

The cell From molecules to organisms: structures and processes
Molecular basis of heredity Heredity: inheritance and variation of traits
Biological evolution Biological evolution: unity and diversity
Interdependence of organisms
Matter, energy, and organization in living systems Ecosystems: interactions, energy, and dynamics
Behavior of organisms

Physical Science

Structure of atoms Matter and its interactions
Structure and properties of matter Motion and stability: forces and interactions
Chemical reactions Energy and matter: flows, cycles, and conservation
Motions and forces Waves and their application in technologies for information transfer
Conservation of energy and increase in disorder
Interactions of energy and matter

Earth and Space Science

Energy in the earth system
Geochemical cycles Earth's systems
Origin and evolution of the earth system Earth and human activity
Origin and evolution of the universe Earth's place in the universe

Science and Technology

Abilities of technological design Engineering design
Understandings about science and technology Links among engineering, technology, science, and society


National Science Education Standards

Next Generation Science Standards


DeeDee Whitaker

Dee Dee Whitaker

Dee Dee has been a science educator for more than 30 years. She holds a BS and MAT from UNC-Chapel Hill, is certified in science supervision, and National Board certified in adolescent-young adult chemistry education. Her teaching passions are chemistry with authentic student lab experiences and Earth/environmental science. She’s held a Kenan Fellowship and a NC Climate Fellowship. She’s read AP® Environmental Science exams, provided curriculum and assessment development for the NC Department of Public Instruction, and held an appointment with the NC Environmental Education Advisory Council.


*Next Generation Science Standards® is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of, and do not endorse, these products.