Climate change would be added to Nebraska’s science standards for the first time, but students would “evaluate the reliability and validity” of climate models, according to the latest draft standards proposed Wednesday by the Nebraska Department of Education.
An earlier draft, made public in May, worded the climate change standards as settled science.
That version called on students to “gather and analyze” data from models to “recognize patterns in climate change over time.”
Both versions would have students then make a projection of future climate trends.
Members of the Nebraska State Board of Education will be briefed on the new draft Thursday.
The standards list what students should know and be able to do in science in kindergarten through high school.
Board members could approve them at their September meeting, replacing standards adopted in 2010.
State law requires the department to update standards every seven years.
Once approved, local districts have a year to adopt the standards or their own of equal or greater rigor.
The latest draft incorporates some changes based on public input via an online survey and emails.
Climate change and evolution drew some of the most impassioned comments, winning praise from some commenters but concern from others that state was politicizing the standards.
Some examples from both sides:
» “It is great to see standards reflecting ecology and climate change! Great job!!”
» “Thank you for providing standards that do not waste students’ time with ‘alternative possibilities’ like creationism and denial of human-cause climate change.”
» “We should not harp on political issues such as global warming. It could be brought up and a scientific connection made, however it should only be secondary content (cause and effect) rather than the focus.”
» “Climate models are known to be inaccurate and are typically used to predict dire consequences for the future. Eliminate this standard or add cautions.”
Sara Cooper, science education specialist for department, said the proposed new language on climate change is “really driving home the idea that we want students looking at lots of things and really evaluating evidence related to the claims that models are making.”
The new draft didn’t change regarding the topic of evolution, which is addressed in the current state standards as a theory.
Students would be expected to “demonstrate understanding of the factors causing natural selection and the process of evolution of species over time” and understand “how multiple lines of evidence contribute to the strength of scientific theories of natural selection and evolution.”
Cory Epler, chief academic officer for the Nebraska Department of Education, said science experts at the post-secondary level say the material on climate change and evolution is “scientifically accurate.”
Epler said he intends to present letters to the board in September from post-secondary representatives testifying that the standards will prepare students for college and careers.
More than 700 people commented on the draft standards from May 5 to June 23 via an anonymous online survey. Sixty-three percent identified as teachers, 21 percent as parents.
About 88 percent agreed that the draft standards reflected the essential knowledge and skills that students need. About half the respondents suggested changes in wording, content or design.
Comments weren’t limited to climate change and evolution. Some said the standards did not emphasize the scientific method enough. Others questioned whether the standards borrowed too heavily from the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of national standards adopted by 18 states, including Iowa.
Some suggested that the state should test science every year, like it does for math and English language arts, rather than just in fifth, eighth and 11th grades.
One person expressed concern about pushing more difficult material into lower grades, for instance asking second-graders to “plan and conduct an investigation.”
Some people identifying as college professors said their incoming students lack skills in the draft standards.
Cooper said the drafters relied heavily on standards from other states, not just Next Generation.
“We took the best of lots of pieces and made it ours,” she said.
Although many states embrace the Next Generation Science Standards, there are critics. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute graded them a C, criticizing them for putting too much emphasis on science practices over knowledge.
Regarding the scientific method, Cooper said the standards would require students to understand the process of doing science, which varies beyond one particular method.
Shauna Roberson, president of the Nebraska Association of Teachers of Science, said her organization likes that the standards contain a disciplinary core idea, a “crosscutting concept” common to different scientific disciplines and a science and engineering practice. This approach is also used in Next Generation.
She said her organization also likes that the standards use examples from the state, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, agriculture, Nebraska-specific flora and fauna, and its geologic history.
She’s comfortable with including climate change.
“You job as a teacher is to give them the science behind it, and then, at that point, it’s the student’s choice to decide,” she said.
The new draft includes the addition of 12th-grade “Plus Standards” for chemistry, physics, advanced biology, and anatomy and physiology.