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Press Release · March 7, 2018

School Districts Face Challenges Implementing New K‒12 Science Standards


San Francisco—March 7, 2018—Successful implementation of the state’s new K–12 science standards will likely call for revised high school graduation requirements and a stronger science focus in the early grades, according to a new report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

The report identifies major challenges districts have encountered since the introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013. It draws on a survey of unified and high school districts conducted at the end of the 2016–17 school year. It offers recommendations on how state and local policymakers can help districts implement California’s stronger science standards.

Report findings include:

  • Successful implementation may require changes in the K–12 system. The state’s minimum high school graduation requirements include only two years of instruction in life and physical sciences, while the new standards require a minimum of three years. Overall, science education has taken a back seat to math and English, and very few students have access to a quality science education in early grades.
  • Awareness and implementation are uneven. Most (91%) of the survey respondents are either very or somewhat familiar with the science standards, and districts across the state have high hopes for the new program. Yet a quarter of low-performance districts are only slightly familiar with the new standards. Seventy-eight percent of districts report that they are implementing the new standards, with urban districts (94%) outpacing their rural counterparts.
  • Instructional materials, science labs and equipment, teacher shortages and training present challenges. Fifty-nine percent of districts report instructional materials as a big challenge, and most also struggle with inadequate science labs and equipment. About a quarter of districts report having insufficient credentialed science teachers, while more than 70 percent face challenges in professional training.

“The new standards are an important step toward improving science education,” said Niu Gao, report coauthor and PPIC research fellow. “But the state needs to take additional steps to help districts implement them, such as updating high school graduation requirements and improving science education in the early grades.

Revised graduation requirements would mirror the proposed expansion of the University of California’s admission requirements from two science courses to three to align with the new standards.

The PPIC report recommends targeted outreach efforts to raise awareness in low-performance districts, along with clarification and guidance about the new science curriculum.

Other recommendations include:

  • Adjust elements of the K–12 system to make science education a priority in schools, particularly in early grades.
  • Alter the current accountability measure, which is focused on English and math, by incorporating the new science assessment.
  • Identify effective science pathways in both academic and career technical education, particularly for historically underrepresented students.

The report, Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards: Early Evidence from California, was supported with funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. In addition to Gao, the coauthors are Sara Adan, Lunna Lopes, and Grace Lee.


The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.