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State Board of Education to debate language in state standards on evolution

State Board of Education members will hear public testimony Tuesday on science curriculum standards that teach students to discredit evolution. They will discuss potential amendments to the standards Wednesday.

State Board of Education members work their way through proposed revisions to social studies textbooks at a meeting with publishers in Austin on Monday, October 20, 2014.

The State Board of Education will hear public testimony Tuesday morning on whether it should vote to keep language challenging evolution in state science standards for high school students.

A day after hearing testimony, board members on Wednesday will discuss the biology standards, propose amendments and vote on them. While the board will also meet Thursday and Friday, the final vote on the biology standards will happen at the April board meeting.

Board members will also discuss proposed edits to the English and Spanish language arts and reading standards this week.

At the request of the board last July, a 10-member committee of educators and experts took on the challenge of narrowing down the biology curriculum standards known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. The committee removed four passages that some board members and activists say allow teachers to challenge evolution in the classroom, thus advancing creationism.

Educators on the committee said they did not intend to make a political statement when they made their recommendations. Teaching 14- and 15-year-olds to question evolution is a tall order for students and teachers, Karyn Ard, a biology teacher at Troup Independent School District, told the board in November.

"These changes were purely based on the fact that our kids cannot master those," she said.

In 2009, board members added the passages in question to the science standards, to persuade students to pursue creationist explanations as alternatives to evolutionary science. One of the passages requires biology teachers to examine "all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."

The committee removed that line from the standards, arguing that "evidence does not have sides, only different perspectives on the interpretation of the evidence."

Left-leaning education board watchdog Texas Freedom Network has been following this fight, and published a report in 2012 singling out the four passages in the biology standards for challenging evolution. 

"We'll be watching to see whether the board ignores the recommendations of the very people they appointed to these committees and adds them back, or whether this time they listen to the recommendations of teachers and scholars," said Dan Quinn, Texas Freedom Network spokesman.

Two new additions to the board this week — Republican Keven Ellis in District 9 and Democrat Georgina Perez in District 1 — could affect the dynamic of the discussion Wednesday.

Ellis has refused to take a position on this discussion. Perez has promised to be a more vocal Democrat on a board of mostly Republicans.

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • Language challenging evolution was removed from high school biology standards because it seemed too difficult for students to analyze and evaluate, the state education board was told Wednesday.
  • The new Republican State Board of Education representative isn't saying whether he'll vote to remove creationism from state science curriculum standards.

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