Changes to science standards in Utah schools approved despite claims of political bias

Posted at 9:39 PM, Dec 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 23:39:32-05

SALT LAKE CITY – State education leaders signed off on an overhaul of Utah’s science standards for students in 6th to 8th grade.

It’s been a hotly debated issue for years, with calls from critics to de-politicize the standards, specifically when talking about evolution and climate change.

People packed the Utah State Board of Education meeting Friday holding signs, an indication of the contentious debate in the past two years over new science standards.

The board called for an overhaul of science standards almost 20  years ago with the goal to better prepare students for college. For the first time ever, they added engineering to the curriculum.

“It puts us in the direction of doing science in the science classroom as opposed to memorizing in the science classroom,” said Ricky Scott, USOE Science Specialist.

The new standards move some subjects normally taught in high schools to middle school. For example, climate change, which is now taught in 9th grade, will be offered in 8th grade.

“It’s really again focusing on the data, and letting kids see what the science is saying,” Scott said.

While state educators shot down claims that they relied heavily on federal recommendations, rather than what’s best for Utah, critics mostly worried about injecting political bias in lessons about climate change and evolution.

“They were really politicized in the beginning and they still are politicized. They also are quite biased on certain aspects: Darwinism, evolution and so forth,” said Vincent Newmeyer, a member of the parent review committee.

Board member Stan Lockhart made a last-minute plea to change the wording in the standards to specify students were learning about “scientific theories” and not “facts.”

“In grades K-5 they are all about learning scientific facts, now we’re transitioning into these theories, things like evolution and climate change,” Lockhart said.

The board rejected the amendment but approved the changes. A sign to some that they are committed to helping students succeed.

“We need to make these changes and hopefully create a generation of youth that can actually help solve some of our world’s problems,” said Amber Debirk, a parent.

The standards will be implemented during the 2018-2019 school year. Click here for a look at the standards.