Topeka If the State Board of Education next year decides to make evolution part of statewide science tests, the questions will be ready and waiting.
John Poggio, in charge of writing the new tests, said Thursday he's already preparing additional questions that include evolution. He said he doing it because next year the board's majority will shift from conservatives to moderates.
Three moderate Republicans who favor a greater emphasis on evolution in the tests won primaries Tuesday. If elected on Nov. 7, they promise to replace testing standards that de-emphasize evolution with a version stressing the theory.
The Democrats running in November have vowed to do the same. In January, the 10-member board is expected to have at least seven moderates.
Poggio said he began working on the test questions about two weeks ago in case the board's majority shifted.
"The only intent here is to be prepared," he said. "We had to anticipate something like this happening."
Poggio is co-director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at Kansas University. The center is under contract with the state to develop the science tests, which students would start taking next year.
A year ago, the board voted 6-4 for the standards, which de-emphasized evolution and provided the foundation for the tests.
Poggio said he still is working on a set of tests based on the standards approved by the board. He said those tests will have no evolution questions.
But Poggio said he also is developing the additional questions in case the board adopts new standards in January, when the new four-year terms begin. He said that should give him enough time to add the questions before the tests are mailed out in February.
"We've got a slight window," Poggio said.
Poggio is basing his questions on a version of standards written by a committee of 27 science educators. That version, which the board did not vote on last year, is favored by the moderates.
Poggio said he is writing 10 to 15 questions, which cover such subjects as geology and experiment design, as well as evolution.
He said the questions could be offered as a supplement to school districts if the board keeps the tests that don't have questions on evolution.
Poggio said he plans to ask nonprofit foundations to help pay for the extra questions because the state is paying only for the tests. He estimated the cost of creating booklets with the additional questions at between $30,000 and $50,000.
Education Commissioner Andy Tompkins said he plans to go ahead with the non-evolution tests until he gets other orders from the board.
"You've got to be cautious about doing anything that presupposes what someone is going to do," Tompkins said.
Board Chairman Harold Voth, who voted for the standards, said Poggio's plan might help avoid further controversy if the board reverses course in January.
"He may make something more simple for us when the time comes," said Voth, of Haven.
I.B. "Sonny" Rundell, who voted against the standards, said it would be better to delay implementation of the tests rather than make a hasty decision.
"I think we'd ought to be a little slow about making some abrupt changes," said Rundell, of Syracuse.