Report: Science Standards Fall Short in Aligning to Math Common Core

By Erik W. Robelen — August 20, 2013 3 min read
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A Washington think tank concludes in a new report that the Next Generation Science Standards fail to adequately align with the mathematics expectations put forth in the common core.

In addition, the same organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, has just issued a state-by-state look at how the new science standards compare with the current ones in most states, as well as several states with standards Fordham deems “exemplary.” (This builds on an earlier analysis issued in June by the think tank that gave the science standards an overall grade of “C.”)

The math review issued today finds “several important strengths—and a distressing number of weaknesses,” according to a foreword written by Chester E. Finn Jr. and Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The weaknesses it perceives include an overall lack of strong connections and alignment between the math and science expectations at particular grade levels, as well as just simply not enough specificity around the math needed. (The report also echoes a criticism Fordham has previously served up that the main standards document simply does not provide sufficient math content, even when it’s critical to learning the science.)

“Given the critical overlap between science and math, as well as the NGSS authors’ intention to align their science expectations with the common core math standards, these shortcomings signal a need for caution on the part of states that are serious about implementing the [common core] but that are also considering adopting the NGSS,” says the report from Fordham, which has been an outspoken advocate for the common core.

The initial Fordham review of the science standards, issued in June, included analysis of the math explicitly included in the standards, and found an “acute dearth of math content” even in situations where it was deemed vital to understanding the science.

The new analysis was conducted by W. Stephen Wilson, a professor of mathematics and education at the Johns Hopkins University. It draws on a closer look both at the section of the main standards document that lists pertinent common-core standards, as well as Appendix L, which is intended to further explain the connections between the math and science standards.

Appendix L says the “NGSS development team worked with the CCSSM writing team to ensure the NGSS do not outpace or otherwise misalign to the grade-by-grade standards in the CCSSM. Every effort has been made to ensure consistency. It is essential that the NGSS always be interpreted, and implemented, in such a way that the math does not outpace or misalign to the grade-by-grade standards in the CCSSM.” The 37-page appendix walks through many of the standards to further elucidate the connections.

But the Fordham study, while saying that the appendix is “markedly more useful than the ‘connections’ column in the main NGSS, contends that the supporting document is “seriously compromised by three types of shortcomings":

• In several cases where the science standards’ expectations require math to fully understand the science, that math goes well beyond what students would have learned by that grade level in classrooms aligned with the common core;

• Appendix L “misses” some opportunities to build important links between grade-appropriate math and required science content; and

• The appendix too often makes “superficial connections” in which grade-appropriate math is presented in ways that do little to enhance science learning.

The report says that, in general, “one of the salient shortcomings of the NGSS is their failure to include very much math at all, particularly in areas where mastery of related math content is essential to understanding science required by the [standards].” It also says that the connections made to specific common-core standards in the connection box are “superficial at best.” It explains that they amount to simply a list of math standards “that might be relevant to science expectations.”

Readers are encouraged to chime in to respond to the Fordham critique. The comments section is officially open for business!

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.