Do state science standards matter?

With the fight over including evolution in the state science standards here in Florida now over the hump, we now need to ask ourselves: what did we win? As several news articles have pointed out, in many school districts across the state evolution was already being taught anyway. So, does have a stronger set of science standards actually mean anything?

A timely study was recently published that at least in part addresses that very question. The paper detailing the study is “The evolution battles in high-school science classes: who is teaching what?” by Kristi L Bowman. It’s an attempt to determine whether evolution is actually being taught to high school students by asking college students to describe the quantity and quality of the subject’s instruction back in their high school days. I’ll let you read through it for yourself and let others, like PZ, give their takes on the bigger picture. But what I’m focusing on is how much of a role state science standards might have played in the results.

The study used students from eight universities scattered across the country (Florida wasn’t one of them). The states these universities are in were carefully chosen based on a variety of criteria. One category was the states’ science standard’s handling of evolution. Four were considered strong and four were considered weak. Of course, other factors played a role in the results — for instance, consider why the state might have strong or weak standards — but here they are for your consideration:

Of all recent public high-school graduates in strong standards states, 93% reported evolution instruction, but only 72% reported being taught that evolution is a credible scientific theory. By comparison, 89% of recent public high school graduates in weak standards states reported evolution instruction, but only 60% reported being taught that evolution is a credible scientific theory.

Wow! Only 60% were taught it is a credible scientific theory! That makes me itch to know what has been going on here in the Sunshine State the past decade. The study reflected a bit deeper, though. There is always more to the story (emphasis mine):

However, when evolution is taught, it can also be presented as a concept lacking scientific credibility. Applying a logit regression analysis and holding constant states’ partisan political preference and geographic location, the estimated odds were that respondents in weak standards states are three times as likely as those in strong standards states to receive instruction that evolution is not scientifically credible (P = 0.01). The frequency-based statistics account for much of this disparity, with 4% of strong states’ respondents reporting that evolution was taught, but presented as a concept lacking scientific credibility, compared to 9% in weak states.

Here’s the message I take away from that: We should be proud of what we did here in Florida! We definitely jumped from a set of weak standards to very strong ones. That increases the chances that our students will be exposed to sound science in the correct context.

Now, ummmmm, could someone tell me what “logit regression analysis” means? 😉

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
This entry was posted in Analysis/Commentary, Our Science Standards. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Do state science standards matter?

  1. Josh K. says:

    I have always been interested in science. I was educated primarily in the northeast and was correctly taught of evolutionary theory as an important and fundamental scientific truth. Even after graduating college in Florida, I was completely unaware that there was any controversy at all on the subject. I had no idea of the extent of ignorance and of the distorted public opinion on evolution.

    I first became aware of this when I was having dinner with my sister-in-law and her then boyfriend. Mind you, neither of them are the sharpest crayons in the box. The sister-in-law was commenting on her Biology class at the local community college and how she couldn’t believe that they were trying to teach evolution as if it were fact. She said “it’s just a theory, how can they teach it as if it were a fact?” Her boyfriend joined in and said that he didn’t believe in the way scientists “dated things” and that the earth was only a few thousand years old. He declared that “he didn’t come from no monkey, he came from Jesus”. I was blown away! I had never heard such things before, and didn’t know how to respond. Thoughts of dinosaurs, ice ages, and continental drift passed through my head. It was as if someone just told me that they didn’t believe water was wet – I was completely dumbfounded, and at a complete loss for words. That’s when I decided to get more involved. I decided that never again would I be at a loss for words when someone makes such outrageous statements.

    The sister-in-law was educated in Oklahoma, the boyfriend in Florida. Apparently, both were taught in grade school that the credibility of evolution was suspect. This came from school, not just church. It seems to me that this is quite common in the Bible belt. I am no longer surprised by the number of people who have this opinion. I can only try to pass on knowledge through conversations, blogs, and letters to the editor, one person at a time.

  2. S.Scott says:

    It’s frightening isn’t it.

  3. Josh Krupnick says:

    Yes, it is. I have a child of my own who will soon be entering the school system. She attends church every Sunday, and I am very concerned that ignorant people there and elsewhere may eventually try to influence her and twist around the facts based on their belief system. It might happen; but, I sincerely hope that it’s not going to come from her science teacher.

  4. firemancarl says:

    I picked up my daughter from school the other day and I was checking her out I made an off hand comment about evolution being slow in the 3rd & 4th arm/hand category ( yes, mine were full) then I said “hey was can ‘evolution’ now” and gave 2 thumbs up. The ladies in the front office smiled and said “Yes we can!” and gave me 2 thumbs up. It’s working!! We just need to teach more of it!

  5. Dave B says:

    If I may drift slightly – The journal Nature discusses the next stop in the creation–evolution debate in the United States: Texas.

  6. MaryB says:

    While I know as a biologist and a teacher that evolution is supremely important, it frankly hijacked the public understanding of the importance of our new standards. As a member of the writing committee I hope that they are clear (a little less so after the “edits”) and that they are developmentally appropriate. Particle theory and cell theory are not introduced until middle school and particle theory and Astronomy (excuse me -the Scientific thoery of particles and the Scientific theory of astronomy) wait until grade 8. Less higher math and algebraic analysis is expected of 8th graders who may just be introduced to them as they are forced to try and use equations to analyze the laws of motion. And elementary students are no longer forced to memorize the parts of a cell or the solar system both of which most of them are not developmentally ready to comprehend in any way other than memorization. And finally we went from over 600 concepts (120 in my 7th grade classroom in a year – 1 per day with all the interruptions factored in) to 20 to 30 concepts per year or less. Meaning we can now teach a concept using labs that generate data that students can then analyze to discover concepts` for themselves. Its called Inquiry and its a powerful way to teach and it takes lots of time to do. So hurray for the new standards and let the professional development begin so our children can participate fully in the 21st century as citizen scientists! 😉

  7. S.Scott says:

    Thank you very much for your efforts Mary 🙂 You are much appreciated!

  8. James F says:

    Indeed! Well done, Mary, and thanks for posing! 🙂

    Also – if you don’t know already – in addition to the Texas Freedom Network ( ), there is also Texas Citizens for Science ( ). Both are working hard to keep creationists from taking over the state BOE. I especially like the TCS motto: “Don’t mess with Textbooks!” 😀

  9. firemancarl says:

    Here! Here!

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