The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and similar science standards based on A Framework for K–12 Science Education were developed to level the playing field for all students. One of the most important factors for ensuring that all students experience equitable science instruction is access in every classroom to high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials. Such materials enable students to use grade-appropriate ideas, practices, and concepts to make sense of relevant phenomena or to design solutions to actual problems. Standards-aligned materials provide a roadmap for teaching and learning and help ensure all students receive equitable access to science instruction that prepares them for college, careers, and citizenship.

Developing the Key Takeaways

Identifying Key Takeaways from the Early Years of Transforming Science Education for the Next Generation

Since 2013, nearly all 50 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) or similar standards based on A Framework for K-12 Science Education. These standards are designed using research that shows how students learn science best — by doing science, using the same practices as scientists. Lessons learned during the past seven years of implementing the NGSS offer invaluable insights as well as resources for districts and states undertaking or considering adopting these or similar science standards.

The NextGenScience team brought together a diverse group of educators and experts who had developed, adopted, and/or implemented instructional materials aligned with today’s science standards. We organized them by their role in education:

  • State, district, and school leaders
  • Science classroom educators
  • Science materials developers
  • Third-party curriculum evaluators
  • Science researchers and experts
  • Professional learning providers
  • Non-profit partners that support standards implementation

Then we conducted a series of focus groups in which we asked participants to share the essential lessons they learned about developing and delivering high-quality, equitable science learning experiences for all students. The findings from those focus groups are captured in the five key takeaways that follow.

For additional insights and resources or direct support for your implementation process, reach out to

Five Key Takeaways for Achieving Equitable Science Instruction for
All Students

Click on the any of the items below to learn more about each of the five Key Takeaways.

States, districts, and schools see positive outcomes when they invest time and energy into creating and sustaining science leadership teams to support the shifts in science education that today’s science standards demand.

“As you think about priorities and shift into adoption, planning is essential. You need to have a clear vision for science education before you look at materials.”

Partner Organization Director

School system leaders set the vision for science instruction. To do this effectively, leaders think carefully and strategically about what it takes to support students in meeting the high expectations of today’s science standards.

A science leadership team provides the necessary infrastructure and accountability for implementing the standards, which includes, among other things, ensuring all educators: (A) have access to high-quality materials, (B) are prepared to use those materials effectively in the classroom, and (C) are able to measure student learning through standards-aligned assessments.

Developing a team and strategy are foundational steps that set the stage for the rest of the work to implement the standards. Without a team and strategy, the process can be unclear or haphazardly implemented, which reduces the chances for meaningful, sustained shifts to take root in a system. When science leaders engage stakeholders around a common vision, backed by a careful plan for achieving that vision, students' science learning experiences and outcomes improve.

Resources Connected to This Takeaway

NGSS District Implementation Indicators: This document provides some key common indicators of successful NGSS implementation at the district level, as well as some concrete actions that districts can take to achieve their implementation goals.

NGSS District Implementation Workbook: This workbook provides an overview of the issues and challenges associated with NGSS implementation and outlines some key questions, timelines, decisions, and considerations for district leaders.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts: Instructional Materials: Achieve interviewed nine of the 10 districts in the California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative and compiled that information in a resource that highlights district experiences and instructional materials.

The Leading by Convening (LbC) Framework: This resource includes a variety of tools and protocols to support education leaders with building teams focused on improving educational outcomes for students.

To make the shifts in science education that today’s science standards demand, educators and students need access to high-quality instructional materials.

“High-quality materials call for lots of student discourse; teachers blend in with everyone else. When we have high-quality materials that teachers can use, teachers can start to create learning environments where students are leading the conversation.”

District Science Leader

“I’m shocked and amazed by how teachers are open to learning through this process. Instructional materials that show what it looks like for students to be scientists and own their learning offer teachers a deeper understanding of the standards. Materials have to support and scaffold instructional shifts.”

Professional Learning Provider

Why Materials Matter

While the standards lay out the skills and knowledge students should have acquired by the end of instruction, a high-quality curriculum designed for the standards charts the pathway that helps students reach proficiency in the standards. Instructional materials are a key to achieving equity because they have a huge impact on learning experiences and outcomes for students, particularly those living in poverty and from non-dominant communities.

The Features of High-Quality Materials

High-quality materials designed for today’s science standards enable students to use grade-appropriate ideas, practices, and concepts to make sense of relevant phenomena or to design solutions to actual problems. With these materials, educators can create environments where students have multiple opportunities to build on prior knowledge, share ideas, and make use of the practices of scientists and engineers.

It’s challenging to update old curricula to ensure they are designed for today’s science standards. The most effective materials that reflect the innovations of the Framework are built from the ground up. Many curriculum developers are making progress creating new, high-quality curricula.

Selecting High-Quality Materials

As educational leaders plan the implementation of new science standards, one of the most important decisions they face is selecting instructional materials to support student learning. This process is most effective when it begins by engaging a variety of stakeholders in meaningful dialogue, learning about the features of quality materials, and carefully evaluating materials for alignment to today’s science standards. A review process that includes stakeholder buy-in, clear criteria, and careful evaluation of evidence from the materials enables schools and systems to select the best possible materials.

Resources Connected to This Takeaway

Materials matter, but materials alone won’t transform science education for the next generation. Educators and leaders need ongoing opportunities to engage in high-quality professional learning that is closely tied to classroom instruction and positions educators as both learners and professionals.

“Professional development is essential and expensive, and leaders are hungry for it. We need to offer safe spaces for continuous learning at all levels.”

Regional Science Leader

"Even if you give teachers high quality materials, they still need professional learning opportunities to know how to use them.”

Science Education Researcher

Curricula designed for today’s science standards call on teachers to shift their instructional approach from sage-on-the-stage to guide-on-the-side. Standards-designed materials give students the opportunity to make sense of the world around them by observing real-world phenomena, bringing their own ideas and experiences to the table, asking questions, and investigating those questions. For teachers and leaders alike, this is a significant change.

To realize those shifts, educators need more than professional learning that just unpacks the standards. They need high-quality, ongoing professional learning experiences that are closely tied to what teachers actually do in the classroom. Curriculum-based professional learning enables educators to experience, practice, and reflect on NGSS-designed materials. Such professional learning can deepen educators’ expertise in: (A) science content, including their understanding of disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and scientific and engineering practices; (B) science pedagogy, including practices that support rigorous student learning; and (C) strategies for meeting the needs of all learners.1 These professional learning opportunities honor educators’ experience and expertise by aligning meaningful support with quality curriculum.

Once school systems select high-quality and aligned materials designed for today’s science standards and establish a professional learning plan, teachers need a safe space to learn, try out strategies, and receive feedback. Meanwhile, science leaders need ongoing training and support around what to look for in classrooms to promote teacher growth. Instituting these opportunities can generate the greatest change in teacher practice and student learning.

Resources Connected to This Takeaway


High-quality, aligned assessments are an important signal and tool to more effectively monitor student learning and generate better science outcomes.

“It takes a lot of policy and advocacy work to be sure the school board supports this type of work. How can you change the narrative to show you’re having success? What’s the work around social justice that matters to your community, and how does science play a role? How do you get the momentum and support to move on the things that really matter?”

Partner Organization Director

Today’s science standards represent a shift in learning goals from memorizing facts to developing a deeper understanding of ideas, practices, and concepts that can be used to make sense of the world. That shift has implications for measuring whether students have met their learning goals. Just as instruction must change, so must assessments. They should be focused on making sense of uncertainty associated with a phenomenon or problem by using both science knowledge and practices, together.

High-quality assessments are an important tool to support better science outcomes and signal needed changes in instruction. The field is still developing support for educators to monitor their students’ learning. However, rather than having one test as the sole measure of success, a more effective strategy is to have a coherent system of assessments that includes varied and innovative assessment opportunities to gather information for different audiences and purposes (e.g., classroom teachers to inform instruction, district and state leaders to inform programmatic and policy decisions).

Resources Connected to This Takeaway

Shifting to the teaching and learning necessary to meet the expectations of today’s science standards requires systemic change. School systems should invest in adequate, sustained support for science to develop and maintain an effective, coherent science education program.

“For everything that is happening in the classroom, we need infrastructure and funding. We need to think carefully about what we do with materials. We need people with more knowledge to support the changes we want to see in classrooms.”

District Science Leader

The innovations of today’s science standards call for states and districts to shift their approach to student learning, materials selection, professional learning, elementary science schedules, scope and sequence, and funding. Classroom teachers are dedicated to doing their part to transform science classrooms, but they can’t succeed without supportive systems and communities of practice. Investing in our students’ futures will require careful attention to the infrastructure required to improve science teaching and learning and investments in resources for students and educators.

Resources Connected to This Takeaway

Stories from the Field

Adapting Existing Materials for the NGSS

Pair of adult's hands holding a science flashcard

This vignette shares a curriculum developer’s lessons learned from designing materials for today’s science standards along with advice for educators on how to determine which existing lessons and activities can be adapted for new standards.

Download this Story from the Field (.PDF – 460KB)

Rethinking Science Curriculum Adoption

close-up of two people studying

This resource highlights one district’s journey to adopt new science instructional materials, using a process that engaged multiple stakeholders to carefully review and pilot the materials. It underscores the importance of rethinking curriculum adoption to ensure materials are designed around key shifts in the standards.

Download this Story from the Field (.PDF – 320KB)

Science Leadership Teams 

These four vignettes share the work of regional science leadership teams in Pennsylvania engaging in strategies to improve science education in their communities, including creating a shared vision for science teaching and learning, evaluating high-quality instructional materials, building school administrator capacity in science, and boosting district leader capacity to design an effective professional learning plan.

Download this Story from the Field (.PDF – 4MB)

For additional insights and resources or direct support for your implementation process, reach out to us here.


Thank you to the science education leaders who participated in focus groups to contribute their expertise to this project.

Lauren Allen, Management Analyst, STEM Integration and Instruction, Division of Teaching and Learning, Office of the State Superintendent of Education

Tammy Askeland-Nagle, Science and Student Engagement Consultant, Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency

Kimberley Astle, Science Program Supervisor, Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction

Kristoffer Carroll, Coordinator, K–12 Science, STEM, and Innovative Programs at Curriculum and Instruction Division, Clark County School District

Susan Codere, Project Director, Multiple Literacies in Project-Based Learning (ML-PBL), CREATE for STEM Institute, Michigan State University

André E. DeLeón, Education Program Professional, K-12 Science and Instructional Materials, Nevada Department of Education

Zoe Evans, Principal, Bowdon High School, Carroll County Schools

Molly Ewing, Science Education Consultant

Kathy Gill, Retired Teacher, Davis Joint Unified School District

Emily Mathews, Senior Program Coordinator, Northwestern University

Bill Penuel, Distinguished Professor, Institute of Cognitive Science and School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder

Kiran Purohit, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, New Visions for Public Schools

Brianna Reilly, Curriculum Development Manager, Great Minds

Holly Rosa, Director K-12, Science, Technology/Engineering, Boston Public Schools

Sam Shaw, Director of Science Review, EdReports

Melissa Trimble, Science Specialist, Davenport Community School District

Nelly Tsai, Middle School Science Teacher and Secondary Science TOSA, Irvine Unified School District

Lacey Wieser, Science Content Specialist, EdReports

The Key Takeaways project was made possible thanks to support from Arconic Foundation, Bayer USA Foundation, and Chevron.

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