Reviewing the USOE Report on the Proposed NGSS Science Standards

The report from the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) regarding the Summary of 90 – day Review Period for Utah Science and Engineering Education Standards for grades 6 - 8 is out and according to what they have published it is overwhelmingly in favor of adopting the NGSS proposed science standards. But are Utah Educators and Parents really in favor of adopting these standards?

Authors Bias

The survey was designed by the USOE, the data was collected and totaled by the USOE, the results were tallied and published by the USOE, and comments in defense of the NGSS addressing challenges identified from the survey were penned by the USOE and not the USOE in general but the very same people who want you to pass their proposal for the adoption of the NGSS.

Bodies Present but No Feed Back?

Consider this telling statistic as reported in the Summary of 90 - Day Review Period:

Of the total number [of] responses, 464 responses [(]45.8%) answered questions and gave feedback regarding the standards. There were however, 547 of the responses that only entered personal information and gave no feedback for the standards.

Emphasis added

Imagine that; of the 1011 people who were interested enough to take the time to go to the survey on the web, less than half (464) gave any feedback. Obviously something is quite wrong here.

Confusion and Ambiguity

I have heard from a number of people who have read the proposed NGSS “Performance Standards” and have taken the survey. These participants included teachers, parents, and even scientist. I have heard many comments about how vague the standards were and how limiting the survey was in allowing expression. For those who think the “Experts” can do no wrong (or at least are mostly right) it would be ease to glibly agree rather than to search the web for the full NGSS and consider what is really being said.

Here is a comment from a teacher.

The standards were stated in a very ambiguous way. I had to do significant research to actually understand what exactly they were saying. I was pointed to additional information originating from NGSS that had a lot more detail. Most people doing this survey would be very lost as to what the standards actually mean, in which case they would be forced to agree to the standards whether or not they actual do.

This brief sketch of the “Performance Standards” is not what will be given to the teachers. This has been made clear from a number of public statements from USOE staff.

The USOE did not comply with the law

Utah law 53A-1-402.6. States

(4) Before adopting core standards for Utah public schools, the State Board of Education shall:

(a) publicize draft core standards for Utah public schools on the State Board of Education's website and the Utah Public Notice website created under Section 63F-1-701;

(b) invite public comment on the draft core standards for Utah public schools for a period of not less than 90 days; and

(c) conduct three public hearings that are held in different regions of the state on the draft core standards for Utah public schools.

The standards as they are intended to be adopted were not posted. It is not that there is going to be a little tweaking here and there—the bulk of the material was not posted. This is clearly evident from either comparing the full NGSS or the standards as proposed in February to what was proposed in April by the USOE. This is also reinforced by public comments at the hearings in which teachers that will be teaching these proposed standards complained about the clarity.

Teacher - Clarity Issues

As it stands … I cant take that [the Performance Standards as published] and build my curriculum. … Some of [the proposed standards are] very very unclear. … An example … 8.1.8 … 'Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.' It took me 15 minutes to tear that thing apart and figure out what it meant. I don't know that I still know what it means but I am working on it.”

Again we have multiple public statements from USOE staff that have admitted that the performance standards as published to the public is not what will be given to the teachers as the standard. At the very least USOE will tweak one or two standards and then ether adopt nearly verbatim the rest of the NGSS material or hand out tweaked “Performance Standards” and then refer teachers to the NGSS website for the rest of the material, which, in either case will be essentially “adopting the NGSS in whole.”

Lowest Scores from Teachers that will Teach the Standards

Another very telling aspect of the Summary of the 90 day evaluation is that the lowest ratings of the proposed NGSS 6-8 grade standards was given from the very teachers who would be teaching this material to their students, that is, science teachers in grades 6-8. True, most responses are still above 50% but not by a lot—some portions only by a narrow margin. i.e. one at 50.5 % and one at only 49%. The spin given this by USEO is that (1) “many sentiments that seemed to come from teachers with fears of teaching science in a new and more engaging way.” This statement shows the built-in bias of the study writers. What teacher would be against teaching in a more engaging way? (2) “Teachers were concerned about the shifting of content in what they teach rendering their classroom lessons and materials useless Core standards for Utah public schools.” That, I think, is a valid concern and should be taken into account. The required retooling for these teacher will be horrendous. The amount of hours pored into developing new curriculum and purchasing new supplies and teaching aids is very, very significant, especially when you consider state wide adjustments.

The Missing Demographic

From time to time, the USOE talks about stake holders. In my understanding, the stake holders are the children, plain and simple. As children are not suited to making complex decisions about things which they have not learned, these decisions rightfully and by divine decree fall to the parents. Of all of the philosophies emerging from academia, none are significant if they are contrary to the will of the parents. The Parents -- those who have ultimate authority and stewardship for the education and upbringing of their children. One of the most clear indications of the Summary of 90 - Day Review Period is that there was very little input from parents. This is the largest demographic in numbers and, in my mind, the most important, but it was one of the smallest groups recorded. What input that there was has been skewed through the USOE bias, not just in the reporting but in how the survey was designed.

Missing Metrics

The Summary of the 90-Day Review Period is filled with numbers and tables of numbers giving the impression that this report is complete and thorough. Even in the section titled “Feedback through other communication,” numbers are given to the reader to further the understanding of points given EXCEPT when discussing Email responses. Here no numbers are used to indicate the favorable vs unfavorable email responses to the standards. Not only are there no numbers associated with the point, there is not even an expression given of what the balance was between pro and con emails. This to me appears to be an intentional omission. Perhaps the Emails in general were not very favorable to the proposed standard and ran counter to the impression the authors of this report were trying to portray.

Accuracy of the Assessments

One of the most controversial aspects of the standards is the teaching and methods of teaching Darwinian evolution. The concepts of Darwinian evolution are scattered throughout the NGSS standards. Each of these 6,7 and 8th grades contain some aspects of Darwinian evolution but the most focused section of the grades under review are placed under the heading of 7th grade root question 2. The section of the Summary of 90 – Day Review which address 7th grade root question 2, scored this section very close to the all of the other sections of all grades. This is not what one would expect for a section that is publicly controversial. Part of this middle-of-the-road score is perhaps a result of the innocuous language that was chosen to represent these principles from the NGSS authors of these particular “Performance Standards.” In fact, according to the report, the parent scored the section at 88.0% which is higher than most of the groups identified (example 61 teachers general and 55.9 for teacher grades 6-8 teachers). Much of the more concerning aspects of these standards is found in the support material for these “Performance Standards” which was not part of the materials that was shown to the public. However, if you take a second look, it it is apparent that these NGSS “Performance Standards” do show a dogmatic and assertive stand on these controversial issues instead of encouraging a scientific approach of open inquiry of all the data and potential interpretations. For example:

7.2.4 Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.

(emphasis added)

Considering this closer look at the standards and now identifying this apparent dogmatic approach, does this treatment of Darwinian evolution really merit the 88.0% agreement from parents that is shown? How does this measure compare to other polls that have been taken on this topic and how parents think that they should be taught in the schools?

In a nation wide 2009 Zogby Poll about Evolution and Academic Freedom this question was asked:

QUESTION: I am going to read you two statements about Biology teachers teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. Please tell me which statement comes closest to your own point of view—Statement A or Statement B?

Statement A: Biology teachers should teach only Darwin’s theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it.

Statement B: Biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.

The results:

Statement A 14%

Statement B 78%

Neither 5%

Other/Not sure 2%

This Zogby Poll shows a public sediment completely opposite of what is shown in the USOE report about this topic.

This same upside down pattern of known controversial issues to the presumed public acceptance is also reported from the USOE on issues related to Global Warming. We find that discussions on Global Warming are also stated in dogmatic terms.


Though there are things that we can learn from this report of the review period and the feed back. It would be folly to conclude that this report is an accurate report of broad spectrum support for the adoption of the NGSS particularly when it comes to the stake holders—the parents on behalf of the student—and also the teachers that will be implementing the standards. Further, judging from the issues that stemmed from the Common Core adoption and seeing that NGSS is the complement to CCSS coming from the same sources (see my paper What? NGSS is Common Core Science???) and that it carries with it similar biases, adopting NGSS or substantially adopting NGSS may bring further discontent from those who have the most concern over the results of Utah education – the Parents!

Thanks, Vincent Newmeyer