An agreement on the new teaching standards for the science of biology may soon be hammered out after two years of debate over how much evolution should be questioned in the classroom.
A committee made up of three members each from the state Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) met in Columbia on Tuesday. EOC executive director Melanie Barton said they carefully analyzed the National Science Teachers Association’s position statement on evolution and what the group believes should be taught.
Barton said everything those science teachers suggested and pushed forward to change the science standards on biology were included in the latest proposed document, with one important addition.
“The beginning of the world as we know it, how did that start?” she said. “None of us were there, of course, and all of us have our own cultural conceptions, our personal beliefs of how the world started. So this is just to say when science comes with ideas and suggestions on how things evolved over time, that students will have access to that and critically think about it.”
The recommendations will now go to the full EOC on August 11. The revised standards would then be presented to the State Board of Education on August 13. Approval from both is needed before the new standards can take effect.
Barton said the analysis of the biology standards is part of the cyclical review of standards of sciences as taught in the public schools. The 2005 standards are in place until the revision takes place.
“All we’ve done is add one more to say that students must be able to critically analyze new scientific evidence and decide how this fits in with what we know about evolution, how does it not, how does it raise other questions, really focusing on the critical analysis of students,” she said.
State Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, is the Senate’s representative on the Education Oversight Committee. Fair has been one of the most vocal opponents against teaching natural selection as fact, adding that there are other theories students deserve to learn. Fair said he hopes the new requirement will create critical thinking.
“Synonymous with critical thinking is research,” Fair said after Tuesday’s meeting. “It would be wonderful if high school students would debate each other on some significant parts of the science standards and look at some of the facts out there and come up with some great conversations in the science class.”
The standards will require students show proficiency by being able to “Explain how scientists develop theories and laws by using deductive and inductive reasoning in situations where direct observation and testing are possible and also by inference through experimental and observational testing of historical scientific claims. Students should understand assumptions scientists make in situations where direct evidence is limited and understand that all theories may change as new scientific information is obtained.
Barton said developing students’ abilities to critically analyze material is a key element in measuring students’ grasp and basic understanding of the material.
“Can they look at scientific evidence and come to their own conclusions rather than being fed the information by an instructor? Because that’s the way students will get engaged in science. If they can take it, own it, and apply it.”