Louisiana school board nods to creationism in science standards vote

In this undated file photo, British scientist Charles Robert Darwin, founder of the theory for the evolution of life is seen at an unknown location. (AP Photo, File)

(AP) Louisiana’s top school board is poised to rewrite the state’s two-decades-old science standards for public schools, after a debate that veered into disagreements over evolution.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as BESE, gave preliminary support Tuesday (March 7) to the standards, which were drawn up by a review committee packed largely with local educators.

With a 9-0 vote, a panel of nearly all BESE members agreed to the standards revisions. But support came only after language was added to remind educators about a Louisiana law that allows public school science teachers to use supplemental materials in their classrooms.

Supporters of the addition wanted the language included as a way to encourage teachers to challenge evolution in their science classrooms.

“If you really believe we should teach the controversy, why is that not included in the standards?” asked Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Gray.

Amedee was among several speakers who wanted the standards tweaked to raise questions about evolution. Gene Mills, president of the conservative Louisiana Family Forum, said evolution is referenced 25 times in the standards, but with no mention of “opposing theories.”

“Teachers, like the test, will follow the standards,” Mills said.

Science teachers urged the education board to adopt the rewritten benchmarks without language challenging evolution.

“These standards are not based on biased opinions, but are supported by years and years of scientific research,” said Kyle Duhon, a science teacher at Jennings High School who helped work on the standards revamp.

In response to concerns about evolutionary teaching, BESE members added a provision in the standards referencing a 2008 state law called the Louisiana Science Education Act.

The law allows public school teachers to use supplemental materials to promote “critical thinking skills” in areas like evolution and global warming. Critics call the law a backdoor way to introduce creationism into science classes, which supporters of the law deny.

BESE members voted 7-2 to include information from the state law in the standards, before the committee then approved the full package without dissent. The board is expected to give final passage to the standards Wednesday.

But the transition to the new teaching benchmarks won’t be immediate.

The upcoming 2017-18 year will include teacher training and field testing, according to the education department, with the standards fully phased in by the 2018-19 school year.

The classroom standards set guideposts for what students from kindergarten through 12th grade should know in basic science, physical science, physics, biology, chemistry, earth science and other scientific fields by the end of each grade.

The current standards were written in 1997. The education department says only two states, New Mexico and Wisconsin, use older science standards. The rewrite was aimed at better preparing students for jobs in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math.

Louisiana ranks poorly in national comparisons of science testing results.

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