State releases revamped science standards proposal

(UPDATED, 4:02 p.m., with details from the proposed standards.)

A state committee has made another attempt to break a deadlock over addressing climate change in Idaho classrooms.

But the last word in this controversy belongs to Idaho lawmakers — who removed references to climate change from state science standards earlier this year.

The State Department of Education unveiled five new climate change standards on Friday, with wording designed to address lawmakers’ concerns. The new language “was reworded to place a balanced focus on solutions and problems,” according to an SDE summary released in conjunction with the new standards.

One proposed standard reads, in part: “Technology and engineering can potentially mitigate impacts on Earth’s systems as both human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase.” Another says, in part: “Human activities can have consequences (positive and negative) on the biosphere, sometimes altering natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species.”

Since 2015, the process of updating science standards has been mired in Statehouse politics.

The 2017 Legislature removed five standards that reference climate change and human impact on the environment. Lawmakers suggested that the language did not address both sides of the debate over climate change, and did not consider the possibility that human activity can have a positive effect on global climate.

Lawmakers adopted the remaining science standards earlier this year. They went into effect on a temporary basis, and will be reviewed in full in 2018.

After the legislative session, the SDE solicited public feedback online and held a series of six public meetings across the state, receiving more than 1,000 public comments. Then an SDE committee began working on a rewrite.

The committee — which included science teachers, a parent, Idaho National Laboratory officials, a Boise State University climate scientist and others — developed the five new standards during a daylong meeting May 12 in Boise.

The committee tried to respond to lawmakers’ concerns, said committee member Christopher Taylor, the Boise School District’s science, social studies and health coordinator.

“We went through the five that were rejected and we talked a lot about how we want to keep the integrity of the standards,” Taylor said. “But we did look at legislators’ comments and took out words we knew were hot buttons.”

For example, the committee replaced a reference to rising global temperatures with a phrase referring to change in climate.

The committee also reviewed public comments before drafting the proposed new standards. Taylor said 98 to 99 percent of all comments supported implementing the science standards in full, including references to climate change and human impact on the environment.

If the Legislature accepts the standards, Taylor said he hopes students will collect evidence and use their research and critical thinking skills and the scientific method to develop their own conclusions about climate change.

“We tried to really listen to the community, and we believe the (new) standards will be excellent standards for our students,” he said.

Another committee member, state STEM Action Center Executive Director Angela Hemingway, said she was impressed with the team that drafted the standards. The team includes several Idaho teachers who won the Presidential Award for excellence in math and science teaching.

“We had some phenomenal educators in the room who have been dedicated to this process for the last three years,” Hemingway said. “They are some of the most dedicated educators I have ever worked with, and our kids are lucky to have them in Idaho.”

During the legislative session, there was some confusion about whether the science standards were cut and pasted from national sources or represented “Common Core Science.” Taylor emphasized the new standards were developed by Idaho teachers for Idaho classrooms.

Standards represent a minimum requirement in schools. However, districts use standards to develop training for teachers and design student assessments.

“The standards are really important,” Taylor said.

In a news release Friday, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra praised the process that yielded the new standards.

“(The committee) identified the standards that would support our state’s goal to grow our STEM focus in education to meet the demands of our economy,” she said.

The next step in the process comes in August, when the State Board of Education reviews the new language. The standards then go to the Legislature in 2018.

Further reading: Click here to review the science standards approved earlier this year. (The standards lawmakers removed are set out in red text.)

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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