South Dakota Adopts Near-Copy of Next Generation Science Standards

By Liana Loewus — May 26, 2015 2 min read
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The South Dakota board of education has adopted a new set of science standards that look a heck of a lot like the Next Generation Science Standards, but with at least a few edits related to climate change and the Earth’s age.

So far, 13 states and the District of Columbia have officially adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. South Dakota was among the “lead state partners” that helped develop the standards and pledged to seriously consider adopting them.

I did a full comparison of the kindergarten and middle school standards, with a quick look at the other grades. Here’s what I noticed:

The new South Dakota Science Standards use the same three “dimensions” as the NGSS: science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts (though those elements are organized differently in the South Dakota document). They also use the exact same numbering system. And for the most part, the standards have the exact same wording. At times the verbs differ slightly—"conduct” becomes “plan and carry out,” or “use argument” becomes “construct an argument"—but the content is virtually identical.

The preface of the new South Dakota standards notes that they were “guided by” the Next Generation Science Standards document and the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education, on which the NGSS were based.

Climate Change and Evolution

The public hearings on the proposed South Dakota standards, which were adopted May 18, were contentious, according to the Rapid City Journal, with “a clear split between science professionals who strongly support the new standards and opposing parents who disbelieve climate change and evolution.” Overall, though, there were about twice as many teachers, researchers, and scientists testifying in support of the proposed standards, the newspaper said.

The South Dakota science standards document itself notes that there is “particular sensitivity to two issues: climate change and evolution” and suggests parents “engage their children in discussions regarding these important issues.”

In terms of teaching evolution, both sets of standards say students should “communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.”

The two sets of standards do differ slightly on climate change, a topic that has caused some uproar in other states considering adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards. (After much back-and-forth in West Virginia, the state ultimately adopted the standards with modifications to satisfy climate-change skeptics.)

The NGSS say that students should “ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.” The South Dakota standards, on the other hand, say students should ask about “factors that may have caused a change in global temperatures over the past century” (emphasis added).

One notable omission in the South Dakota standards is the NGSS requirement that students “construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth’s 4.6-billion-year-old history” (MS-ESS1-4). That standard doesn’t appear at all in the document South Dakota adopted. But the South Dakota standards do add a requirement within another standard (MS-ESS2-3) that students “analyze and interpret data on the age of the Earth.”

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