3 Key Takeaways from Achieve’s New Alignment Claims Resource

looking at plants

Achieve has recently published a new resource aimed at helping educators begin to evaluate common claims made by curriculum providers about how their materials relate to the Next Generation Science Standards.

We asked our curriculum content specialists to review the document, and they came up with 3 key takeaways.

Takeaway 1: Ask publishers to define their claims and provide evidence that backs up those claims.

Like all advertising, publishers of instructional materials often know the language that people are using to search for science curriculum. It’s easy to incorporate that language into promotional materials. It’s much harder to actually design the curriculum so that it meets those claims.

An important point that Achieve made in the document was that just because a certain claim is used, it doesn’t mean that the claim is “bad” or “good.” Instead, they said that any claim should be clearly defined and supported by evidence

Because of this, publishers should be happy to provide detailed evidence for how their instructional materials match the intent of the standards within the claim being made.

Takeaway 2: Familiarize yourself with the 5 innovations outlined by Achieve.

These five innovations are the things that make the NGSS new and different from past standards. It’s important to understand what these innovations are, as well as how they manifest themselves in instructional materials.

  • Innovation 1: Making Sense of Phenomena and Designing Solutions to Problems

Achieve points to an example claim that directly addresses this innovation: “Making sense of phenomena drives student learning.”

This means that phenomena should be front and center in the instructional materials, not just “engagement hooks or enrichment activities, and they are not cookbook-type labs confirming ideas in a text. Rather they are the core of the student learning experience.”

This is important because the Next Generation Science Standards are all about students being scientists and engineers every day in the classroom. And if a student is going to be a scientist or engineer in the classroom, if that's going to be the mode of learning, there needs to be a purpose. That’s where phenomena come in. Phenomena provide the real-world context for learning.

To learn more about how KnowAtom makes learning authentic by using real-world phenomena to develop students’ science and engineering practices, check out our free webinar, “Maximizing Student Engagement with Phenomena,” here.

  • Innovation 2: Three-Dimensional Learning

An example claim that addresses this innovation is: “We not only have the pieces of the NGSS, our materials integrate the three dimensions in student performances.”

According to Achieve, evidence for this claim would be that in many lessons and student tasks, the three dimensions are both referenced and leveraged for students. It is important that instructional materials don’t teach the three dimensions of NGSS (the crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, and science/engineering practices) in isolation.

Any curriculum needs to “articulate coherent trajectories of questions to investigate or problems to solve that bring together target core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and practices,” according to the National Academy of Sciences’ Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards.

To read more about how KnowAtom integrates the three dimensions, check out our ebook, “3 Key Features of Next Generation-DESIGNED Curriculum” here.

  • Innovation 3: Building K-12 Progressions

An example claim that addresses this innovation is: “[The product] builds all three dimensions of the NGSS.” [emphasis added]

Another claim that supports this innovation is: “Engineering and the nature of science are embedded [in the product].”

This innovation is really about building students understanding and application of the three dimensions over time. A student who starts in kindergarten begins to develop frameworks of skills, habits of thinking, higher order thinking skills, and foundational content knowledge, as well as a different level of expectation of what it means to learn well and what science and engineering are.

As students progress from kindergarten to first grade and onward, their skills are applied with greater precision and greater nuance. They see new angles and new contacts, all of which are driven by real-life phenomena and problems.

The level of interconnectedness also needs to be across strands. NGSS is designed to be an integrated model because Earth and space sciences, life science, and physical science are not isolated from one another. Chemistry is part of life science. Earth science is part of life science. Life science is part of Earth science. All of these pieces interact.

Because they aren’t designed to exist in isolation, the NGSS performance expectations cannot be addressed one standard at a time. This means that within the curriculum, units should group standards together so that students engage in the practices in varied combinations and multiple contexts.

  • Innovation 4: Alignment with English Language Arts and Mathematics

An example claim that addresses this innovation is: “[The product] helps build student math and ELA skills.”

This is important because truly effective STEM instruction integrates ELA and math skills in a variety of ways. For example, effective STEM instruction requires that students read, speak, and write clearly, logically, and effectively. ELA skills are present as students read nonfiction reading, participate in Socratic dialogue, and write out their scientific plan in their lab notebooks (or templates depending on the grade level).

The "lab notebook" is an important part of the science and engineering processes, and it also integrates ELA and math. It’s important to point out that the lab notebook isn’t note taking. Instead, it’s where students create their scientific plans. This involves using ELA skills to communicate each step in the process, and math skills to collect, analyze, and interpret data from the experiment or prototype testing.

Math also helps students make sense of problems, reason abstractly, construct a viable argument, and critique others using evidence.

  • Innovation 5: All Standards, All Students

According to Achieve, this innovation is intended to make sure that “all students have equitable access and opportunity to learn with science instructional materials.”

An example claim that addresses this innovation is: “[The product] is carefully designed to support learning for students not traditionally well-represented in science fields.”

This is particularly important because the K-12 classroom is the best laboratory – literally and figuratively – to engage the interests of all students and to prepare them with the skills to innovate. From there the sky is the limit, and STEM equality is a part of all of our futures.

Takeaway 3: Use available tools to help you evaluate instructional materials.

When you think about alignment, it's important to think about not only the standards themselves, but also how all of the resources you use align to the standards. There are several tools that can help you figure this out.

First is the Primary Evaluation of Essential Criteria for NGSS Instructional Materials Design, the PEEC guidelines. The purpose of PEEC is “to help developers and reviewers of instructional materials answer the question: ‘do the materials contain or exhibit the essential features of a program aligned to the NGSS innovations?”

The PEEC-Alignment document focuses on the innovations set forth in NGSS and their implications for instructional materials.

The second resource to keep in mind is the EQuiP rubric for science, which you can also use to evaluate lessons and units for their alignment with the NGSS.

According to EQuIP, “This document was developed in response to the recognition among educators that while curriculum and instruction will need to shift with the adoption of the NGSS, there is currently a lack of high-quality, NGSS-aligned materials. The power of the rubric is in the feedback it provides curriculum developers and in the productive conversations educators can have while evaluating materials.”

Taking the time to familiarize yourself with NGSS’s 5 innovations, using the tools that have been created to evaluate instructional materials, and asking publishers to provide evidence that supports their claims will go a long way in helping make sense of curriculum currently on the market.

KnowAtom believes a quality science, technology, engineering and math education is essential to turning students into critical thinkers with the problem-solving skills to change the world. We give schools everything they need to teach STEM and partner with teachers so that they have more time to engage with students and collaborate with peers. This gives students the ability to be scientists and engineers in the classroom.

KnowAtom’s approach teaches students to analyze and evaluate, question and create. These skills aren't just useful in a science classroom. They’re applicable to art, ELA, math, and social studies, as well as to college and career. Here, STEM is a way of thinking. Teaching is a way of transforming lives. And good resources are the tools that help everyone focus on what matters in the classroom.