NGSS to the WSSLS: A View from Downstream

Erin Lark

A beloved volleyball coach and mentor used to say, “when you get down the stream, the view is different.”  His reference to looking back at a game performance for strategy analysis is important this spring as educators across our state administer new state science assessments.  Like good coaches, teachers have worked hard to get proverbial teams of students ready for this challenge and are about to receive and celebrate the upcoming measures of achievement.  As part of curriculum design teams, I’ve witnessed firsthand shifts in the the playing field of science education and eagerly anticipate upcoming measurements of the dynamic alterations to our game.  A change that initially seemed daunting is well on its way with gameday statistics in sight.

The chance to work on one’s bump, set, and spike, to this educator is a metaphor for the three-dimensional nature of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were adopted as the Washington State Science Learning Standards (WSSLS).  Each of the aforementioned skills is essential for players to practice in combination for match success just as strong instructional delivery combines the Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Cross Cutting Concepts to create a high-quality learning experience for students.  What we know about coaching is that individual players need just the right guidance for skill development and a strategic coach will leverage resources to make this happen. Like a quality playbook, these standards provide a framework for teachers in delivering a rigorous, future forward science curriculum for all students’ learning needs.  Further, the necessary combination of features is precisely why the WSSLS serve Washington students and educators in a transformational way.

Whether used with a conjunction between or as separate terms, equity and access are key aspects of successful, inclusive, education programming.  The achievement gap, a term referring to disparities in academic performance in subgroups of students (e.g. low socioeconomic status, Latinx, or female students), is a reality weighing heavily on the minds of educators and policy makers.  Adoption and implementation of the NGSS and rollout of assessments in 2018 are means for narrowing this gap; global science achievement is supported through science education that embraces diverse backgrounds, strengths, and needs through mindful instructional delivery.

Students Working Together


In volleyball, collaborating with teammates on a play can mean the difference between a point or an attack error.   The aforementioned three dimensions of learning enable teachers to set students up to apply a collection of knowledge and experiences toward a goal: the performance expectations.  For example, my students were recently asked to design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the negative effects of humans on our local waterways. In preparation for that assessment task, students needed opportunities to dive into the environmental concerns in our community, research the history of human-driven climate change, and collaborate in their planning, all while understanding cause and effect relationships and the design process.  Additionally, the expectation is tied to their location, making science relevant to the student’s world. In addition to providing these experiences, I also built in student voice and choice in determining which effects to target and through what means, another aspect of an equitable practice.

Student Working on Phone


Sometimes our initial efforts are countered and we need an immediate, dramatic response to keep the ball in play.  In class this means I am ready with flexible interventions to support a save and continue the momentum of the classroom.  Whether though making connections to mathematics, circling students back to a supporting standard students learned in previous years, utilizing supportive technology, exploring text complexity, or providing an additional demonstration opportunity as part of standards-based evaluation, the WSSLS allow me to develop a more responsive teaching practice.  I can provide that “just in time” catch for students, an option that didn’t exist within the confines of prior standards.

Experimenting on a Computer


From Kindergarten through 12th grade, the WSSLS provide teachers avenues for personalizing student experiences, an essential aspect of innovation.  If we only ever prescribe science experiences, following traditional, results-oriented traditional modalities, we leave no room for individuals to find their strength in application and shine.  With early and frequent feedback opportunities, educators can instead leverage activities to give students moments of triumph on which to build a portfolio of accomplishments. During second semester, one of my students developed a compassionate focus on how climate change and natural hazards in the Pacific Northwest affect homeless populations.  She is currently working with local environmental scientists to design weatherproof, temporary shelters based on her learning. This student identified a passion that would not have been as accessible under previous, regimented, iterations of science coursework. If we truly support innovation through STEAM career pathways, we have to give students the tools to change the world and get out of their way.  The best coaches know when to step in to intervene and when to step back and cheer on the team.

Interested in building your game?  Take a look at some recent resources to improve your playing time.  Meanwhile, don’t forget to look back and appreciate how far you’ve come in your game.

Zooniverse: People-powered research

Discover Engineering

Lab Out Loud Podcast

ReadyWA Student Planning Tools  

National S.E.E.D. Project


  • assessment
  • Next Generation Science Standards
  • STEM
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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.

Erin Lark Board

Secondary Science Teacher at Vancouver Public Schools

Erin is an NBCT teaching secondary science in Vancouver, WA. Currently at iTech Preparatory, her work centers on interdisciplinary PBL and mindfulness.Her dissertation focused on youth innovation skills and interests in STEM content and careers, and she continues to advocate for young innovators on the daily as a co-founder of WayfinderWA.