Archive for Monday, January 8, 2001

BOE to look at science tests

Board may wait to vote on adding evolution to standards

January 8, 2001


— After more than a year of national criticism, debate and political upheaval, the State Board of Education is prepared to make evolution a cornerstone of its science testing standards.

Or board members might wait.

The board is scheduled to receive a sixth draft of new science standards on Tuesday, complete with new language regarding evolution. That draft would replace standards adopted in August 1999 on a 6-4 vote, which omit references to many evolutionary concepts.

Though a vote is unlikely, the meeting represents a step in undoing a significant political victory won by some conservatives. Members of the board's new majority hope new standards will help restore what they see as the state's tarnished image.

"I certainly hope so," said Carol Rupe, who was elected to the board in November. "I would like to see the perception of Kansas as a good state to raise children because of the education standards."

The state came under national and even international scrutiny because of the evolution debate. Science groups, newspaper editorials and broadcast programs said the board's vote in August 1999 was a retreat to the past and undermined the teaching of high-quality science.

The board wanted to replace science testing standards that were vague about what students should know. It didn't vote on a proposal from a committee of science educators, which described evolution as one of the fundamental concepts of science.

Instead, the board drafted its own standards to be used in developing tests that will be given to students in the spring.

Those standards include "microevolution," the theory that species change over time to adapt to their environments, but exclude "macroevolution," the theory that different species have common ancestors. The standards also contained no reference to the big-bang theory of the universe's origin.

Supporters said the standards left the decision about what to teach in the classroom up to local boards of education. Critics said those boards would react to the standards by not teaching evolution.

Tuesday's board meeting is open to the public, with a comment session scheduled before review of the new standards.

The board may wait to vote on new standards, members said, to give themselves a chance to review them more thoroughly and the public time to react to them.

"I'd like to get it out of the way and move on," said board member Sonny Rundell, of Syracuse, a critic of the existing standards.

The key battle about the science standards came in the August Republican primaries, when two of the six board members who voted in favor of de-emphasizing evolution in the standards were defeated.

Rupe unseated Mary Douglass Brown, of Wichita, who voted for the science standards. Sue Gamble, of Shawnee, defeated incumbent Linda Holloway, also from Shawnee, who was chairwoman of the board when the standards were adopted.

The third new member, Bruce Wyatt, was appointed last summer after Scott Hill, a supporter of the standards, resigned and moved to Montana. Wyatt said he plans to vote to rewrite the standards.

With the revision of standards a near certainty, the question is whether students can be tested on the material this spring. Rundell said they can, even if a vote doesn't occur until February.

If the standards are approved next week, the authors of the statewide assessments would not have to write a new test, said John Poggio, director the Kansas University Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation.

If the board includes more evolution concepts in the new standards, Poggio said, preparing the assessments would be a matter of replacing or changing one question and supplementing three or four others.

If the standards never are revised, the assessment would go forward as presented and students would be tested in mid-March and mid-April, Poggio said.

"It is certainly a manageable situation, but not automatic," he said.

Students in the fourth-, seventh- and 10th grades are tested on science and social studies in odd-numbered years. Reading and writing assessments are given in even-numbered years.

Poggio said the board runs the risk of taxing students and teachers with four lengthy tests in one year if science and social studies are delayed until 2002.

Waiting until 2003 means a further delay in assessing science progress. Student tests are the basis for recent education reforms based on student outcomes.

Board member Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, one of the architects of the current standards, said he objects to the "whole tenor and tone that evolution is a fact."

Abrams doesn't see the need for changing standards, but he knows there are six votes to do it.

"I hate to see them do it, because they are good standards," Abrams said.


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