Science

Ohio State Board Removes Language In Standards Questioning Evolution

By Sean Cavanagh — February 15, 2006 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In the second major blow in as many months to the forces seeking to subject evolution to greater skepticism and scrutiny in science classrooms, the Ohio state board of education has voted to strip language from its academic standards that encourages students to “critically analyze” the established biological theory.

The board decided in an 11-4 vote on Feb. 14 to revise Ohio’s academic content standards to delete that wording, which was the subject of heated debate when it was added to the influential document in 2002.

“This was a win for science, a win for students, and a win for the state of Ohio,” said board member Martha W. Wise, who led the campaign to remove the language critical of evolution.

(Requires Macromedia Flash Player.)

As part of the same action, the board chose to do away with a state-approved lesson plan for teachers that critics said falsely suggested that mainstream scientists harbored doubts about the theory of evolution and promoted debates about aspects of evolution where no legitimate questions exist.

The Ohio vote comes less than two months after a federal judge in Pennsylvania, John E. Jones III, issued a widely scrutinized ruling declaring that a concept that has gained popularity among evolution’s critics—"intelligent design"—is religion, not science. Intelligent design is the belief that an unnamed force has guided various aspects of life’s development. Judge Jones’ sweeping, 139-page ruling, issued Dec. 20, concluded that the design concept does not hold up under scientific scrutiny, unlike the theory of evolution, which was backed by years of research in biology, chemistry, geology, and other fields.

Although that ruling only has legal standing in the federal district where it was issued, Ms. Wise said it had a “major impact” in shaping her thinking on the issue. The language that was in Ohio’s standards might have encouraged the teaching of intelligent design or creationism, the biblically based belief that God created all living things, she said.

Others were disappointed in the Ohio board’s action. In a statement, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports the teaching of intelligent design, called the vote a “gag order on science, a dogmatic approach to education that restricts students from learning about evolution.”

‘Critically Analyze’ Language Removed

A Republican and self-described creationist, Ms. Wise said that even though Ohio’s standards do not specifically promote intelligent design, she and fellow board members worried that the standards would not withstand legal scrutiny if challenged in court.

“It could have cost the state of Ohio millions of dollars,” Ms. Wise said.

Ohio, like Kansas, has been a major player in the ongoing furor over how to teach evolution in public school science classrooms. The critical analysis language used in its 307-page standards document is often cited by those who call for injecting more skepticism into lessons about the theory, pioneered most famously by British naturalist Charles Darwin.

The Ohio board’s action removes from the standards a statement about what its students should know. The statement says 10th graders should be able to “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”

The state board’s decision comes as controversies over how to teach about evolutionary theory continue to emerge in states and school districts across the country. Some of evolution’s strongest critics suggest that public school science teachers should be allowed to discuss what they see as alternatives to evolution, such as intelligent design, a belief rejected by the vast majority of scientists, who say it relies on nonscientific and religious principles. The scientific community has instead consistently backed the theory of evolution, which holds that humans and other living things have developed through natural selection and random mutation.

Standards Content Debate

Ohio’s academic content standards for science were approved four years ago after a highly charged debate. Board members considered but eventually decided not to include language introducing intelligent design. In fact, the language in the standards specifically states that it “does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.”

In Ohio, as in most states, academic standards form the basis for questions students face on mandatory state tests. Last November, an Education Week analysis found that state standards vary greatly on how thoroughly they cover the topic of evolution, and in some cases, skip several core concepts. Overall, Ohio’s standards scored well in Education Week‘s review, covering many evolutionary topics thoroughly and citing respected national scientific documents—published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the congressionally chartered National Research Council—as blueprints for that document.

Education Week also found that statewide tests are equally uneven in how much they require students to know about evolution, with some asking no questions about the theory and others asking more than a dozen about it.

Ohio officials told Education Week last year that their state’s 38-question state high school science test, administered in spring 2005, included no questions that specifically mentioned evolution or referred to the topic generally. State officials explained that such an omission was not unusual, because items on the test are randomly drawn from a bank of questions based on the standards.

J.C. Benton, a spokesman for the Ohio education department, said it is unclear whether any items on the spring 2006 version of the science test refer to the critical analysis of evolution that was deleted from the standards. If there are any such questions, he said, the state would inform the company that scores the tests not to count those items. Science is one of five subjects that Ohio students are required to pass to receive a high school diploma.

Related Tags:

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Science Catching Up Native American Students in Science
The pandemic dealt a setback to science education for Native American students, but culturally relevant lessons could offer a path forward.
7 min read
Conceptual illustration of a lone figure not fitting into the digital environment
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Victor Grow/iStock
Science Here's How to Make Science More Relevant for Students of Color
Students get more out of science class, these teachers say, when the lessons are linked to their own lives and communities.
5 min read
Chemistry teacher Nina Hike poses for a portrait in her classroom at George Westinghouse College Prep on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021 in Chicago, IL. Through her curriculum, Hike highlights scientific discoveries by women and people of color, and also teaches students about environmental racism.
Chemistry teacher Nina Hike poses for a portrait in her classroom at George Westinghouse College Prep on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021 in Chicago, IL. Through her curriculum, Hike highlights scientific discoveries by women and people of color, and also teaches students about environmental racism.
Taylor Glascock for Education Week
Science COVID-19 Is a Science Lesson Waiting to Happen
Teachers have more information about the virus now than in March 2020, but barriers remain to focusing on the pandemic in class.
8 min read
Conceptual illustration of sectioned off people studying a Covid-19 Virus
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Jorm Sangsorn/iStock
Science Finding Hope in the Face of Climate Change: Why Some Teachers Focus on Solutions
Learning about climate change can make students feel anxious or hopeless. A solution-focused teaching approach gives them a reason for hope.
11 min read
Conceptual illustration of hand reaching into an atom and picking the planet earth
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Frances Coch/iStock