DOE: Just fudge the results; no one cares about science anyway

June 11th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

The Florida Department of Education released the results of statewide assessments yesterday. Unfortunately, there is a potential fib about the science results in the DOE’s news release:

Tallahassee, Fla., June 10 2016 – Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart today announced that Florida students are improving their performance on state assessments in Mathematics, English Language Arts, Science, Civics and U.S. History.

Did the science scores actually improve? Let’s look at the numbers. You can look up the results for yourself at the DOE results web page. Pay special attention to my extra notes in italics.

Biology End of Course
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
Spring 2015-2016: 64 (or is it 63? The District 2015 and 2016 Comparison Statewide Science and Biology 1 EOC Excel spreadsheet says it’s 64%, but the Biology 1 EOC Spring Administration State Summary PDF says it’s 63%. Which is right?)
Spring 2014-2015: 65
Spring 2013-2014: 68
Spring 2012-2013: 67
Spring 2011-2012: 59

5th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2016: 51
2015: 53
2014: 54
2013: 53
2012: 52

8th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2016: 50 (Biology 1 EOC is added to this score on the District 2015 and 2016 Comparison Statewide Science and Biology 1 EOC Excel spreadsheet. On the Statewide Science Assessment State and District Scores for All Curriculum Groups Grade 8 Excel spreadsheet — without the Biology EOC — it’s 48.)
2015: 48
2014: 49
2013: 47
2012: 47

So, the first line of the DOE’s news release says scores are improving in all subjects, including science. Yippee. The only rise for science was in 8th Grade Science FCAT scores … but wait a minute … did the rise actually happen?

Let’s read the end of the news release where a list of accomplishments is touted, including the one science bright spot:

Student results were up 1 percentage point in Grade 8 Science combined (Statewide Science Assessment and Biology 1).

eraseThe reality is that 8th Grade Science FCAT percentage passing was 48 in 2015 and 48 in 2016. There was no change. To wring something positive out of the science results, the DOE had to include 8th Grade Biology EOC results in the 2016 FCAT numbers. If you look back at the scores released in 2015, the DOE didn’t do that then! My assumption is that the DOE retroactively did that now with the sole purpose of finding an increase in science scores somewhere … anywhere!

OK, there was no outright lying here. Sure, the “combined” results did go up a percentage point (I have to assume that, because the EOC and FCAT “combined” score is not on the 2015 released documents). But it’s clear that a bit of creative sleight of hand happened when the initial, unaltered results didn’t match the DOE’s everything is improving narrative. I can imagine someone in charge ordering his/her staff to “find a way to make this look good … now!”

Great job, guys. You squeezed a one percentage point improvement ray of sunshine out of your ass. No one’s going to notice. Right? Instead of actually doing something about the dismal, stagnant results, just fudge the numbers.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, shows you how much Florida officials care about science education in this state.

Keep an eye on Broward County

May 31st, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Hemant Mehta posted at his Friendly Atheist blog something that sure is making me raise my eyebrows. The chair of the Broward County School Board, Dr. Rosalind Osgood, said this during a worship service at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale:

God has really blessed me this school year that a lot of my principals were transitioned out, and he filled those spots with new principals that were saved. Principals that loved the Lord.

A quote like that makes me wonder if any particular religious philosophy makes it way through these “saved” principals into the schools’ curriculum.

If anyone is in Broward County, please keep an eye on this.

Here is Dr. Osgood’s bio at the Broward school board website.

Darn, how did I miss this?

May 16th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Baptist College of Florida had a Creation Conference:

On April 26-27, The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville hosted the first on-campus Creation Conference in the R.G. Lee Chapel led by world-renowned Creation Scientist Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International. Sarfati holds a Ph.D. in Spectroscopy (Physical Chemistry) from Victoria University in Wellington, and has authored numerous books, articles, and resources focusing on the topic of creationism.

“The purpose of the conference was to show how, contrary to popular belief, the biblical account of creation is actually well supported by science, including evidences from biology, geology, astronomy, and anthropology,” stated BCF Professor of Old Testament and Event Coordinator Rick Freeman. “Sarfati demonstrated how the genuine facts of science do not fit well with the theory of evolution, whereas they do fit nicely with the view that God created all things from nothing about six thousand years ago.”

I missed this glorious and oh-so-educational event. But fear not; there are videos. If I get a little free time, I may check out the one directed at the youth. Maybe.

A calm response to an anti-evolution rant

May 14th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

Back on April 25 I posted about a guest columnist in the Gainesville Sun railing against evolution, He’s itching for a fight. The writer’s main point was that past debates at the University of Florida between creationists and scientists over evolution allegedly came down heavily in favor of the creationists. The supposed victories were so decisive that other scientists refused to participate and were instead “hiding under their desks.” I have yet to find solid evidence of any such debates or their fallout, but a guest columnist in Friday’s Gainesville Sun nicely rebuts the anti-evolutionist writer. Essentially, results of public debates have no bearing whatsoever on the actual science: Paul A. Gulig: Catholics face no conflict between faith and science.

His first point is to tell the story of an obviously inept debate on the subject that occurred on campus in the 1980s. The fact that an evolution supporter grossly failed in his mission does not negate the whole subject. If that were the case, nothing would be settled by debate because there are inept people taking every side of every issue, and all one would have to do is find the worst example of support for a side to show that the point of view is wrong.

He then tells of a second alleged debate that was apparently one-sided for evolution. Again, the fact that a poorly planned event took place does not address the core issue.

I encourage you to read the whole piece. It’s a very nice take down, demonstrating just how vacuous the previous writer’s article was.

Gulig is a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at the University of Florida.

It’s truly an honor!

May 3rd, 2016 by Brandon Haught

I’m very honored and excited to be selected as one of two teacher scholarship winners, receiving an all-expenses-paid eight-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon, hosted by the National Center for Science Education this summer! Is that just pure awesome or what?!

NCSE news release: Congratulations to the 2016 NCSE Grand Canyon Teacher Scholarship winners!

“This trip will be the adventure of a lifetime for Haught and Davis,” explained NCSE’s Steve Newton, a geologist and one of NCSE’s guides on the annual raft trip. “Teachers who work so hard for their students and the science-literate future of America deserve some time to relax on the Colorado River. But we’ll be making them work, too. The Grand Canyon is the greatest geology teaching lab in the world, and they’ll be able to explore geological processes up close, place their hands on rock layers laid down before the first multi-cellular fossils, and see how plate tectonics, erosion, volcanoes, wind, and waves built up and carved down the landscape. I can’t wait to see what lesson plans they develop based on that experience.” As part of the scholarship application, both teachers committed to produce a lesson plan and student assessment based on the trip, which NCSE will make available for other teachers to use.

Oh, man … they’re going to make me work?! I guess I’ll endure somehow.

We lost a friend

May 2nd, 2016 by Brandon Haught

krotoThere is some very sad news from over the weekend. Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel Prize winning chemist teaching at Florida State University, passed away Saturday. He was a great friend to us here at Florida Citizens for Science. During the big fight over evolution in the state standards back in 2008, Kroto personally helped in many different ways. It was an honor to work with him. He’ll be missed.

From the National Center for Science Education’s post on his death:

Kroto was enthusiastic about evolution, writing, in a post on his website, “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is supported by an avalanche of synergistic cross-disciplinary evidence from almost every branch of the sciences: Paleontology, geology, biology, genetics, chemistry, physics etc.” And he was correspondingly concerned about creationist assaults on the teaching of evolution, telling a New Zealand newspaper that people who insert creationism into the science curriculum “really p… me off” (bowdlerism in original). His concern was not expressed only to the media. In 2008, for example, he publicly decried legislative efforts to undermine evolution education in his adopted home of Florida, as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (April 15, 2008) reported.

He had no problem speaking his mind about the evolution issue. He wrote an op-ed column for the St. Augustine Record in 2008 taking Florida legislators to task for trying to meddle in the state science standards debate: Evolution is a ‘Theory’ in Name Only.

It is disgracefully unethical for individuals who rail against the teaching of evolution to young people as a proven “fact” to accept, either for themselves or their families, the humanitarian benefits accruing from medical scientific research underpinned by the theory. Evolution is the backbone of biology. Many medical treatments including most drugs could not have been developed if previous generations of young biology and medical students had not been taught evolutionary concepts.

He’s itching for a fight

April 25th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

debateAndrew Scholberg, a freelance writer and member of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Gainesville, wrote a guest column for the Gainesville Sun entitled Gainesville’s evolution vs. creation saga. In it he laments the absence of any good evolution vs. creationism debate at the University of Florida since the 1980s. Back in the 80s, he writes, there was a debate between creationist Dr. David Kaufmann and UF philosophy professor Dr. Robert Primack. His unverified account, based on an interview with Kaufmann, claims:

When the debate ended, Primack immediately slipped out through a stage door with his tail between his legs while Kaufmann stayed in the auditorium to answer questions from the students who surrounded him, eager to hear more of his thoughts.

After the great evolution debate, the students were asking for more debates. But none of the UF evolutionists dared to debate Kaufmann, who told me, “They were hiding under their desks!”

I’m not sure that a philosophy professor was the best opponent for a die-hard creationist. But a possible alternative reason for no one else debating Kaufmann, other than fear, could be that it’s simply best not to legitimize the non-science of creationism or intelligent design by giving them the spotlight alongside real science. Or maybe the “Darwinists” have been quaking in their boots. Who knows.

I’m not familiar with this debate. I don’t believe I came across it during my research for Going Ape. Or maybe I did and decided not to include it. I only wrote about debates that had some connection to other events in my book, so perhaps I neglected it for that reason. But just now I spent some time poking around my usual research haunts and I have yet to find any news blurbs or Internet hits about this particular debate. If you know of anything I’m missing, please clue me in!

Nonetheless, Scholberg’s column is good for a laugh. For instance:

Those who still believe in evolution might as well believe that the same person could keep on winning the Powerball lottery year after year after year. Similarly, the odds against life-by-chance are so overwhelming as to be impossible. Therefore, evolution has no legitimate place in any science textbook, science class or science lecture. Darwinism is a false worldview: philosophical materialism (atheism) dressed up to look like science.

And I’m heartened to see that the reader comments are, so far, taking the side of real science.

But, according to Scholberg, Kaufmann is still available:

Kaufmann told me he’s still available to represent the creationist viewpoint in a public debate. Does any Darwinist at UF have the courage to debate him, or are they still hiding under their desks?

Good grief.

[edited to add …]

Further research (thanks, Glenn!) turned up a mid-80s article featuring Primack’s views on creationism “the Bible is not a good textbook.” And the article says he was UF foundations of education professor.

Session over; Instructional Materials bills dead

March 13th, 2016 by Brandon Haught

TextbooksThe Florida legislative session is mercifully over and the instructional materials bills we’ve been tracking are history. These ill-conceived bills would have changed the way textbooks and other educational tools are reviewed and selected, handing entirely too much power to well meaning but non-expert parents and not so well meaning, ideologically driven special interest groups. You can learn more about the bills and why there were bad for science education in our news release and series of blog posts.

I told the National Center for Science Education this weekend: “We’re fortunate and happy that these bad bills didn’t get out of the starting gate,” Florida Citizens for Science’s Brandon Haught told NCSE. “The good thing to come out of this brief fight is that a clear anti-science motivation behind these bills is now documented. The bills’ sponsors and supporters aren’t likely to give up, though. But we’ll be ready, just as we have been for a full ten years now.”

I predict that the main cheerleaders for these bills, Florida Citizens Alliance, will be back. They have a sizable network and they visited Tallahassee in person to help round up four co-sponsors on the senate bill and 19 co-sponsors on the house bill. They’re worth keeping an eye on.

On the other hand, as I told NCSE, the good thing is that Florida Citizens Alliance handed us all sorts of evidence of their anti-science views, which can be very useful in the future. And we also made some very good friends with other groups opposed to the Alliance’s antics.