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Why did the SEP create an integrated approach to middle grades science?

California is a kindergarten through grade 8 (K–8) instructional materials adoption state, mandating that standards be assigned to each grade level, K–8.

In the 1998 California Science standards (PDF), each grade level has an emphasis on one discipline, with standards from the other two disciplines. For example, in 6th grade the emphasis is on Earth science, but also includes standards that address thermal energy from physical science and ecology from life science.

The NGSS, as released by Achieve, Inc., are in grade level for K–5, but grade span for middle grades (6–8) and high school (9–12). However, since California is a K–8 instructional materials adoption state, SSPI Torlakson was tasked with arranging the NGSS into specific grade levels for 6–8. He convened the SEP consisting of classroom science teachers, country office science specialists, higher education faculty, business, industry and informal science center representatives.

The SEP was charged with (1) developing a learning progression for middle grades to define “science topics” students should learn at each grade level, and (2) facilitate the instructional materials development process by determining grade level placement of science topics.

The SEP used the following criteria in determining a learning progression (or arrangement of the Performance Expectations) that would best serve middle grade students:

The Performance Expectations (PEs) must:
  • Be arranged to provide a transition from elementary to high school
  • Align with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) ELA and Math (are developmentally appropriate at each grade level)
  • Build within and across grade levels
  • Be balanced in complexity and quantity at each grade
  • Integrate engineering appropriately

The SEP made a final recommendation for a learning progression for middle grades 6–8 science course of study to transition to high school.

The result of this work, and the rationale for the proposed learning progressions for middle grades science (6–8) can be found in the pre-publication version of the Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools, Kindergarten through Grade Twelve (CA NGSS) available online on the NGSS for California Public Schools, K-12 Web page.