Report criticizes science standards

Educational group says text is confusing, poorly written

? Proposed Kansas science standards that detractors view as attacking evolution have been criticized by a nonprofit educational research firm for being confusing and poorly written in places.

A report from the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning in Aurora, Colo., gave the Kansas standards good marks for being appropriate for all students, meeting testing criteria and challenging students to learn at a high level.

However, the report criticized the standards as unclear, especially in areas related to evolution and the study of life’s origins. The review noted the state doesn’t expect to test students on many key elements of evolution covered by language in the standards.

“These standards still need a lot of work, and there’s still a lot of problems with them,” said Steve Case, assistant director of the Center for Science Education at Kansas University.

Case is co-chairman of a committee of educators who proposed revising the state’s existing science standards but continuing to treat evolution as solid science, crucial for students to learn. Kansas law requires the State Board of Education to update academic standards regularly.

The board could vote on the final version of the science standards later this year. The standards will be used to develop tests for students.

Intelligent design advocates persuaded the state board’s 6-4 conservative majority to include language in the proposed standards indicating there’s a controversy over evolutionary theory – drawing criticism from many scientists.

The state board ordered Mid-Continent’s review, a standard practice when the board is revising academic standards. The board could order its staff or Case’s committee to make further revisions in response.

But Case said his committee is unlikely to do more work, noting that much of the criticism in the Mid-Continent review arose from changes made by conservative board members.

Case said there’s no excuse for anything but top scores from an outside review. However, Mid-Continent’s criticisms – that parts of the proposed standards were poorly worded or unclear or that statements were not supported by scientists – are reason to continue working on the document, he said.

Yet the Mid-Continent report cited only 7 percent of the material in the standards as questionable. Much of that material reflected intelligent design advocates’ criticism of evolutionary theory that natural chemical processes can create the building blocks of life, that all life has a common origin and that man and apes share a common ancestor .

“I’m not sure the public understands the nature of this review,” Case said. “What they will hear is that the standards are pretty solid.”

John Calvert, a retired Lake Quivira lawyer who helped found the Intelligent Design Network, said he expected criticism of the proposed standards.

But he noted that a board subcommittee had four days of hearings in May to examine questions about evolutionary theory. National and state science groups boycotted, viewing the hearings as rigged against evolution.

“I could have predicted the reviewers would not embrace these changes. I would not expect the reviewers to be jumping for joy,” Calvert said.

Intelligent design advocates argue some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause. Calvert said including language they seek in the standards gives teachers the freedom to consider other theories and to have a meaningful discussion of evolution.

‘Kansas week’ on tv

The results of a statewide poll on evolution and the ongoing debate over casinos in Wichita will be discussed on public television’s “Kansas Week.” The 30-minute news program begins at 7:30 p.m. today on KTWU Channel 11. Journalists scheduled to appear:

¢ Scott Rothschild, Statehouse reporter for the Journal-World.

¢ Bonita Gooch, publisher of the Community Voice of Wichita.

¢ Bill Wilson, reporter with the Wichita Business Journal.

Case said the proposed standards confuse the lines between good science and the supernatural. He added that an outside review isn’t going to show much support for intelligent design or other ideas not accepted by scientists.

And Case said approval of new standards could be delayed if the national and international science groups balk at allowing their materials to be part of the Kansas standards.

In 1999, those organizations refused to grant copyright permission for changes in the Kansas standards that eliminated most references to evolution. Two years later, after elections, the board rewrote the standards again, making them evolution-friendly.

Calvert said it would be unfortunate to delay the process, but not unexpected if copyrights became a sticking point.

“If national organizations try to use that kind of strong-arm method, it’s just another example of science interfering with education,” Calvert said.