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LINCOLN — New state science standards -- including one that asks high school students to evaluate the “validity and reliability” of climate change -- appear poised for approval Friday by the Nebraska Board of Education.

The standards, which are being updated for the first time in seven years, mark a significant focus on inquiry and analysis by incorporating them into each of the scientific concepts students from kindergarten through high school are expected to learn.

In the current standards, inquiry skills -- how to research and analyze information and reach conclusions -- are separate from the scientific content.

The new standards “raise the bar” for science education in the state, Cory Epler, the education department’s chief academic officer told the board Thursday. “They represent a significant shift in how science is taught in Nebraska and (present) a great opportunity for interdisciplinary studies.”

But it was the question of how to address climate change and evolution that filled the state board room last month, with people on both sides of the hot-button topics addressing the state board.

The current standards, adopted in 2010, don’t use the term climate change, but ask students to observe and describe changes in weather.

Initially, the draft of the new standards asked students to draw on evidence to recognize patterns in climate change and project future climate trends.

That was changed in the final draft, which doesn’t assume climate change but instead asks students to “evaluate the validity and reliability of past and present models of Earth conditions” to project future climate trends and impacts.

Another change, made before the public comment last month, was to ask students to look at climate change over a longer period of time -- thousands of years, rather than hundreds.

On the topic of biological evolution, students are, among other things, expected to “communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.”

Nebraska Department of Education officials got more than 700 responses on a feedback survey, Epler said, about 20 percent of those from parents.

A group of the state’s educators wrote the standards and representatives from the state colleges -- including 90 faculty members from the University of Nebraska campuses -- were involved in drafting them.

The state’s colleges and universities supported the standards in letters saying they would adequately prepare students for college-level work.

Susan Fritz, executive vice president and provost at the University of Nebraska, wrote that the standards recognize the growing interdisciplinary nature of science “and the need to prepare and inspire all students to ask questions about the world.”

Board member Patsy Koch-Johns said Thursday she was impressed by the standards but wished the concept of STEAM -- science, technology, engineering, arts and math -- was mentioned because of the important part innovation and creativity will play in future occupations.

The standards also focus on scientific concepts related to Nebraska and highlight ways teachers can promote civic engagement.

Like state standards in other subjects, the science standards outline broad concepts, and various "indicators" further describe what students are expected to learn and do to meet them.

Unlike standards in many states, Nebraska's don’t stipulate curriculum or lessons, leaving that to individual districts.

The standards are divided by grades until high school, when they’re divided by subject matter.

The final draft added optional, advanced high school subjects, including biology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy and physiology based on entry-level college material.

If the board approves the standards Friday, they would go into effect in 2021.


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