Alabama's proposed revised state science standards still weak on evolution and now even weaker on climate change

Rows of empty desks and chairs.

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash.

"The Alabama Board of Education plans to make minor changes to its science course of study, but has no plans to remove a textbook insert" that mischaracterizes evolution by natural selection "as a controversial theory," according to (November 15, 2023).

Alabama's standards are historically not strong on evolution. A 2009 study in Evolution: Education and Outreach assigned the grade of F to its previous standards for their treatment of evolution, while a 2017 study in the same journal assigned the grade of D to the treatment of evolution in its present (2016) middle school standards. The treatment of evolution in the proposed revised standards (PDF) is not significantly different.

As's story observed, in 1995, the Alabama state board of education began to require the insertion of a disclaimer mischaracterizing evolution as a controversial theory in biology textbooks in order to bring them in line with the state science standards. The disclaimer was subsequently revised, in 2001, in part to refer to evolution by natural selection; the disclaimer was then readopted in 2005 and again in 2016.

In the 2016 standards and in the proposed revised standards, however, neither evolution nor evolution by natural selection is mischaracterized as controversial, leaving no pretext for retaining the disclaimer. A plausible conclusion is that the board wants to retain the disclaimer only to discourage Alabama's science educators from teaching, and Alabama's students from learning, that evolution is a central, unifying, and unrivaled principle of modern science.

The treatment of climate change is actually slated to deteriorate. When NCSE and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund evaluated the treatment of climate change in all the state science standards in 2020, Alabama's standards were among the worst in the country, earning the grade of F. The single middle school standard that addresses the human and natural causes of global warming in the 2016 standards is removed from the proposed revised standards.

John Archibald, a columnist for (November 21, 2023), excoriated Alabama's education leaders for the deterioration of the standards with regard to climate change, quoting NCSE's Glenn Branch and Blake Touchet in the process. "A stated goal of the new standards is to 'prepare all students to succeed in our global economy and society,'" he wrote. "But this is like sending our children into a whodunnit without a clue."

The proposed revised state science standards are posted online for public comment until November 27, 2023. NCSE encourages Alabamans to register their concerns with the state department of education about the inadequate treatment of evolution and climate change.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.