New Standards for More Successful Schools—and Students

The NGSS raise the level of the challenge for all of us. Our job is to help you succeed in this challenging environment.

Dimension 1: Practices

The practices describe behaviors that scientists engage in as they investigate and build models and theories about the natural world and the key set of engineering practices that engineers use as they design and build models and systems. The NRC uses the term “practices” instead of a term like “skills” to emphasize that engaging in scientific investigation requires not only skill, but also knowledge that is specific to each practice. Part of the NRC’s intent is to better explain and extend what is meant by “inquiry” in science and the range of cognitive, social, and physical practices that it requires.


Although engineering design is similar to scientific inquiry, there are significant differences. For example, scientific inquiry involves the formulation of a question that can be answered through investigation, while engineering design involves the formulation of a problem that can be solved through design. Strengthening the engineering aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards will clarify for students the relevance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the four STEM fields) to everyday life.

Dimension 2: Crosscutting Concepts

Crosscutting concepts have applications across all domains of science. As such, they are a way of linking the different domains of science. They include: patterns, similarity, and diversity; cause and effect; scale, proportion and quantity; systems and system models; energy and matter; structure and function; stability and change. The Framework emphasizes that these concepts need to be made explicit for students because they provide an organizational schema for interrelating knowledge from various science fields into a coherent and scientifically-based view of the world.

Dimension 3: Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary core ideas have the power to focus K–12 science curriculum, instruction, and assessments on the most important aspects of science. To be considered core, the ideas should meet at least two of the following criteria and ideally all four:

  • Have broad importance across multiple sciences or engineering disciplines or be a key organizing concept of a single discipline;
  • Provide a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems;
  • Relate to the interests and life experiences of students or be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technological knowledge;
  • Be teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of depth and sophistication.

Disciplinary ideas are grouped in four domains: the physical sciences; the life sciences; the earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology and applications of science. Read more about the three dimensions in the NRC Framework online here.

Next Steps

The next step is for states and critical stakeholders in education to develop science standards based on the Framework. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will mark a major paradigm shift in U.S. science education.

Writing of the Next Generation Science Standards is currently underway. The timeline as of March of 2012 is as follows:

  • Spring 2012: Release of first public draft of NGSS. The writing team reviews feedback and revises as needed; the states and critical stakeholders review and comment on revised draft.
  • Summer/Fall 2012: Release of second public draft of NGSS. The writing team reviews feedback and revises as needed; the states and critical stakeholders review and comment on revised draft.
  • Late 2012: NGSS are released for adoption.
  • By the end of the 2012, the Next Generation Science Standards will be released for adoption. Each adopting state will then map out plans for integrating the standards and revamping their systems to fully meet the expectations set forth in the Framework and written into the new standards.

26 states have signed on as NGSS Lead State Partners. The example and leadership provided by these states will be key to fostering additional state adoptions.

For more information on the development process, click here.