Integrating NGSS with Skills-Based Portfolios

I’ve been reasonably(?) skeptical of the Next Generation Science Standards: how they were developed, the kind of people writing them, the kind of students they are targeted to, and how they will be used in the future. I decided to get over (around?) all my NGSS angst and just dive in to see if they are useful for how I structure my Standards for my science classes.


Like most lists of standards, the NGSS are too bloated with content knowledge factoids for my taste, so I focused instead on the list of Science and Engineering Practices, which turns out to be a list of practices that I think a lot of science educators can get behind. In fact, they already have. There are a lot of parallels between the NGSS Practices and the AP Biology Process Skills from the recent course revision. There is even a lot of overlap with the list of 9 major Skill Standards (based on Colorado Community College Course Student Learning Outcomes) that my students have been working on for the last few years.

Long story short, since there was so much overlap between NGSS, AP Biology, and my standards, I thought that a mashup of all three (or four, if you count ISTE NETS, or five with ACT thrown in) was in order. This ended up generating the Standards that we’ll use this year for my students’ portfolios in Anatomy, Biology, and Chemistry:


1. Learn and Understand Content-Related Terminology, Concepts, Representations, and Models. (Varies by Content Area)

2. Plan and Carry Out Scientific Investigations: Ask scientific questions and define problems, implement data collection strategies, and demonstrate laboratory skills appropriate to a particular scientific question.

3. Analyze and Interpret Experimental Data: Manipulate and interpret data in a variety of formats, such as tables, charts, and graphs, to analyze results, construct explanations, and defend conclusions.

4. Use Technology to Explore, Learn, Analyze, and Communicate Information: Demonstrate the ability to select and apply contemporary forms of technology to compile information, solve problems, and communicate with a global audience.

5. Engage in Argument from Evidence: Justify claims with evidence and evaluate alternative scientific explanations.

6. Demonstrate Self-Analysis/Metacognition: Demonstrate the ability to evaluate your own learning, recognizing areas of strength and weakness, and be able to describe the next steps for improvement.

7. Contribute to the Learning Community: Demonstrate the ability to contribute to the learning environment of the community through effective participation in group work, modeling of good work habits, putting forth your best effort, and helping others learn.


In the process of this mashup, my list of Skill Standards dropped down from 9 to 7, which suits my increasingly minimalist approach to standards pretty well. I think the standards are tighter now, having combined several and mashed others. Only one brand new one makes an appearance (#5), and it really needed to be there since every reputable set of standards (NGSS, AP/College Board, and ACT) recognizes the need to intentionally train kids to argue from evidence. In other words, critical thinking, or scientific thinking, if you prefer, now gets its rightful place in my list of standards.

There you have it, the 7 standards that become the 7 entries per student in my gradebook: no more, no less. BlueHarvest will still do the heavy lifting of formative assessment for me and I’ll still be using assessment portfolios with students, but they might just have an easier time of it with fewer portfolio pages to update.

5 thoughts on “Integrating NGSS with Skills-Based Portfolios

    1. Chris Ludwig Post author

      Thanks for the note. Anyone is more than welcome to use these standards for their classroom. At some point in drafting this post I had a line in there about teachers borrowing and remixing whenever we can, which is certainly true in my case. It’s always cool to compare notes with others trying similar things, so let me know how it goes.

  1. Alfonso Gonzalez (@educatoral)

    Thanks, Chris. I don’t worry too much about content standards. What I do is choose the standards that most closely relate to what we’re doing and I share them with the students and use them in a standards based grading activity. I added some of the NGSS standards to my list, to show parents and students how the standards have changed over time. Your standards reflect other things we do so I’m going to include them to show students that Science is more than just content.

  2. Dan VH

    How do you use BlueHarvest for the standards that are assessed several times during the year (i.e. the skills-based standards, not the content knowledge standards) while tracking their progress? BlueHarvest only reports the most recent mark (1-4) but I would want to see their full progression for final grade purposes. Your Google spreadsheets seemed to work better in that regard. Also, are you just assessing the skill standards when they put them in their portfolio and submit the link to you? Many of the activities/labs that students could be assessed under the content standard and under 1 or more skill standards. How do you deal with this using BlueHarvest? Again, the Google sheets allowed you to provide multiple marks for each assessment (e.g. tech use and data analysis if they made a Prezi of a lab report). Thanks.

    1. Chris Ludwig Post author

      These days I believe in two operational principles for my classes:
      1. Learning shouldn’t be estimated by assigning “points” but instead narrative feedback should be given to help students identify areas of strength and areas for improvement.
      2. Students should have at least as much work to do in determining their final grade as I do.

      With these ideas in mind, I comment on student demonstrations of skills using BlueHarvest throughout the school year. I rarely, if ever, assign points using BlueHarvest, so the issue you raise about only the most recent points showing up is not a big deal for me. I don’t use the Numbers view much at all. The comments I leave hopefully serve as a guide to students to improve the work that will eventually end up in their course portfolio. Students’ demonstration of skill standards is being commented upon on an ongoing basis throughout the year, but is only formalized into a letter grade using the portfolio at the marking periods for the school grade book.

      As you mention, there is a lot of overlap of skill and content standards, since these are not encountered in isolation in my classes. Many artifacts of learning fit into several places in the student portfolios. It is ultimately the student who is in charge of their portfolio, however (see #2 above). They have the final choice of which artifacts belong on which pages/standards of the portfolio. This requires them to look carefully at the artifacts that they made to decide which standards each artifact supports. Its true that the spreadsheets could keep better track of all the standards that I saw evident in student work, but I’m more interested in having the student take a more active role in analyzing their own work. These days, I’ll comment on a student’s BlueHarvest standard page for the most obvious target that a particular artifact seems to meet, but then allow them to place that artifact on additional pages of the portfolio as they see fit. It takes some training, obviously, at the beginning of the year, and in fact most of 1st semester, for students to really get a handle on what the standards are and how their artifacts can show that they’ve met them. Hopefully that will be easier for students this year with only 7 major standards instead of 9.


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