SALT LAKE CITY — A State School Board committee on Friday approved new science standards for Utah public school students in grades K through five and nine through 12, but not before some pushback on the teaching of evolution and climate change.
Except for some slight tweaks, the proposed standards were approved by the Standards and Assessment Committee and will be considered for adoption at an upcoming State School Board meeting.
The effort to update the standards started in late 2017, said Ricky Scott, science education specialist for the Utah State Board of Education. Friday's committee hearing came after a lengthy process to update and write new standards and a 90-day review period, which included six public hearings.
Linda Hanks, representing the Utah School Boards Association, said local school districts anxiously await state board approval of the standards so they can get to work selecting curriculum.
"Our teachers are anxious, waiting for it, the same kind of excitement the six to eight teachers who have already been teaching it," referring to earlier State School Board approval of science standards at the middle-school level.
Dawn Monson, president of the Utah Science Teachers Association, urged the committee's approval of the new standards.
"Students need the opportunity to experience and question. This is what the SEED standards (Utah Science with Engineering Education standards) are. It's not about content but it's about pedagogy. The students need an opportunity to be the scientist," Monson said.
But others pushed back against the new standards.
"The fact our children are continuously proselytized to believe in evolution is a problem to all us religious people," said small-business owner Lee Pearson.
When God is taken out of the picture, "there's no accountability. That makes us free to think we're free to do anything, including killing our unborn children," he said.
Board member Lisa Cummins made multiple attempts to amend the standards, expressing concern about how the standards approach the teaching of evolution and climate change.
Cummins claimed she knows an individual who witnessed the doctoring of data on the greenhouse effect, although she was not personally aware of the events.
Nevertheless, it raises skepticism, she said.
"It brings into discussion what else is out there. What are we not being told? What's been doctored? What's not been doctored?" she said.
"I don't want my kids to think we're going to die in 12 years."
Ashley Russon, science specialist for the Alpine School District who worked to develop the proposed standards on earth science, said, "I don't think any of these approaches lend themselves to a doomsday approach."
Candace Penrod, science supervisor for the Salt Lake City School District and another member of the group that developed the standards, said the standards encourage students' critical thinking skills as they examine data and trends about climate change and engineer helpful changes in human behavior or industry.
"Our children need this information because we want this world to survive," Penrod said.
With respect to evolution, Cummins questioned under the new standards whether Utah public schools "are teaching evolution as a fact or are we including other ideas?"
"Scientific theory, yes," said John Taylor, associate professor of biology at Southern Utah University, who helped develop the high school biology standards.
"We're trying to create scientific classes. So if I took an art class, I would expect to learn art," Taylor said.
"As a parent, I would not find it appropriate to go into science class and hear Adam and Eve creep in. As a parent, I would be saying, 'I had my student take that class to learn science.'"
The standards are based on the work of the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he said.
"These are the largest bodies of scientists coming together saying, 'Here’s where we're at,'" Taylor said.
"As of right now, there isn't a better explanation of the diversity of life and even where man came from than evolution," he said.