Here’s the scoop—what’s really in the standards!

On August 11, 1999 the Kansas State Board of Education adopted new Science Education Standards. Contrary to reports of the mainstream media, evolution was not deleted from these standards. Following is a synopsis of what is actually in the standards. Judge for yourself if Kansas students will learn about evolution.

Incidentally, no mention is made of a “special creation,” “creation,” or “intelligent design” in the standards. Those are “buzzwords” attributed by the media to the “religious fundamentalists” who are supposedly out to remove evolutionary teaching from the public schools and insert their belief system in its place.

The writing committee for these standards built upon prior work done at the national level. Two documents are mentioned in an acknowledgement on p. 6 of the standards: the National Science Education Standards published by the National Research Council; and Benchmarks for Science Literacy from Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Therefore, the Kansas Science Education Standards are founded not only on the research base, but also on the work of over 18,000 scientists, science educators, teachers, school administrators, and parents across the country that produced the national standards as well as the school district teams and thousands of individuals who contributed to the benchmarks.” (p. 6)

The purpose of the standards

“These standards should not be viewed as a state curriculum nor as requiring a specific local curriculum. A curriculum is the way content is organized and presented in the classroom. The content embodied in these standards can be organized and presented with many different emphases and perspectives in many different curricula.” (p. 5)

Critical thinking encouraged

The “nature of science” discussion (p. 6) informs the reader that scientific explanations are “built on observations, hypotheses, and theories,” then defines those terms. Basically, the standards instruct students to evaluate theories, hypotheses, and what is assumed to be fact. These standards therefore, actually build the critical thinking skills of the student because the student must be able to differentiate among those entities.

New research encouraged

We read: “The core theories of science have been subjected to a wide variety of confirmations and have a high degree of reliability within the limits to which they have been tested. In areas where data or understanding are incomplete, new data may lead to changes in current theories or resolve current conflicts.” (p. 7)

Scope of the standards

The standards are general statements of what students should know, understand, and be able to do in natural sciences over the course of the K-12 education. (p. 9)

There are seven separate standards, but these seven separate standards are interwoven, and should not be treated separately. The seven entities are:

Science as Inquiry—this is the part of science where students described objects and events, ask questions, construct explanations, test their explanations against current scientific knowledge, and communicate their ideas to others.

Physical Science—students will study the disciplines of physics and chemistry.

Life Science—students will gain an understanding of biological concepts.

Earth and space science—students will study the fields of geology and astronomy.

Technology—students will learn of the advances made by man to improve his condition and to develop tools needed to accomplish his goals

Science in Personal and Environmental Perspectives—students will understand personal and community health issues, natural resources.

History and Natural of Science—students will distinguish between science and other forms of knowledge or beliefs such as philosophy and religion.

Each set of standards (by grade level) indicates to the teacher whether the topic will be tested by the state. While evolution is mentioned in the standards, those portions will not be tested by the state. Please note that evolution can still be taught (since most public school text books contain much evolutionary content), but will not be tested at the state level. It is unrealistic to assume a teacher will not teach evolution.

Kansas has been a “local control” state for a long time. These new standards compliment this model of education. The standards are meant as a guideline, with the content of state-regulated tests indicated clearly.

Teaching to the test

Will teachers “teach to the test,” thus eliminating the teaching of evolution? Maybe. Teachers all over the country are teaching to the state proficiency tests. However, a good teacher will also cover material that is not mandated by the state test.

Some examples of what will/won’t be tested

  • By the end of 8th grade, a student will observe the “diversity of living things and relate their adaptations to their survival or extinction.” (p. 53) A definition of “micro-evolution” follows. “Using examples of micro-evolution, such as Darwin’s finches or the peppered moths of Manchester helps develop understanding of natural selection. Examining fossil evidence assists the student’s understanding of extinction as a natural process that has affected Earth’s species.” (p. 53)

    (This concept WILL be tested at the state level.)

  • By the end of 12th grade, a student should “develop an understanding of the cell, molecular basis of heredity, biological evolution, interdependence of organisms, matter, energy, and organization in living systems, and the behavior of organisms.” (p. 79) (Parts of this concept will be tested by the state, see below for specifics.)
  • Students will also learn that biologists “recognize that the primary mechanisms of genotypic change are natural selection and random genetic drift.” Natural selection is then defined. (p 81) (This topic is NOT tested by the state.)
  • Students will understand the “energy in the Earth system, geochemical cycles, the origin and evolution of the Earth system, and the origin and evolution of the universe.” (emphasis added). (p. 87)

Under that category, students are to “Research ALL published data on the fossils present in the layers of the Grand Canyon.” (p. 88) Ninety-nine percent of the material a student will find published on this topic is evolutionary in content, attributing minimally millions of years of layering to form the Canyon.

Also in this category students are to investigate how rocks and fossils are dated. Once again, the literature is mostly evolutionary on this topic. (These topics are NOT tested by the state.)

  • Students will understand the origin of the universe. This “remains one of the greatest questions in science. Studies of data regarding fossils, geologic tables, cosmological information are encouraged. But standards regarding origins are not mandated.” (p. 88)

Finally, the appendices contain a rather extensive glossary, which includes a definition of evolution. (p. 98)

We need not believe all that we read in the newspapers or hear on the radio or see on television. We are to be like the Bereans and search for truth. The truth of the matter is that the media falsely reported what the Kansas science standards contained.

Published: 9 February 2006