How The Next Generation Science Standards are Shifting the Learning Paradigm for ELLs

The Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) raises the bar for students across the board. But what exactly do the science standards require of students?


Support, analyze, summarize, determine, compare and contrast. I bet you weren’t expecting to see these words repeated in every sentence. I don’t know about you, but they make me think language arts before science.

The Paradigm Shift

The Common Core’s science standards focuses on practice and application, which  changes the way teachers teach and students are assessed. The standards place much more emphasis on reading and communication skills than No Child Left Behind. The new college- and career-preparation focus is healthy for students; they develop professional and soft skills as they learn curriculum. However, this shift has created challenges for ELLs.

Traditionally, the emphasis for English language students consisted of three things: 1) acquiring vocabulary, 2) developing grammar skills, and 3) learning how to speak like a native. A pretty simple paradigm. However, with the Common Core standards, ELLs are being pushed and stretched a lot more in all subject matters, not just English. The new focus or paradigm for English language learners, with just the science standards as an example, looks more like this: argumentation, discourse, analyzing text complexity, understanding author’s purpose, and other, deeper analytic type tasks. Quite a bit more complicated.

The Issue

This paradigm shift makes the assumption that the student has a holistic understanding of the English language. Unfortunately, for those that don’t, they can’t easily meet these standards because they do not have language skills yet to do so.

Why Does This Matter?

ELLs are the fastest growing population among students in the American school system today. They are also the ones that need the most academic assistance as they learn new material in a new language.

As educators and policymakers better understand what ELLS need to succeed, they can create standards and curriculum that will help ELLS reach their potential.And, as David Coleman, president of The College Board, commented, understanding why ELLS are failing will also illuminate some reasons as to why nonELL students are also failing.

If ELLs are to reach the same standards as everyone else, policymakers can’t expect that they reach them in the same way as everyone else. ELLs have a different set of challenges during their academic careers than nonELLs. ELLs need different assistance to overcome academic challenges. But ELLs can reach the standards set for them with tailored learning materials, assignments, and assessments.