Utah weakens its high school supplementary science standards

Arches National Park, Utah.

Arches National Park, Utah. Photo by SoloTravelGoals on Unsplash.

At its June 1, 2023, meeting, the Utah State Board of Education voted to adopt a number of changes (PDF) to science standards for high school supplementary science classes that weakened the scientific integrity of the standards with regard to climate change and evolution.

In particular, a marine biology standard that stated "The earliest life on earth originates from the ocean" was revised to begin "Scientific theories state that"; a marine biology standard that referred to "how human activities affect marine ecosystems" was revised to read "how human activities may affect marine ecosystems"; and a meteorology standard that directed teachers to "[e]mphasize the role of the greenhouse effect" was revised to direct them to "[e]mphasize the role of the greenhouse effect on supporting life." (On the other hand, a meteorology standard that listed greenhouse gases as a possible example of a factor that produces changes in global climate was revised to direct teachers to emphasize greenhouse gases as such a factor.)

Before the meeting, a member of the Utah House of Representatives, Joel Briscoe (D-District 24), wrote to the board to criticize the lack of opportunity for the public to consider the proposed changes, which were included in a 2795-page packet issued only shortly beforehand. In his letter, shared with KUTV (May 31, 2023), Briscoe also expressed concern about the plethora of proposed amendments to the draft standards, wondering "whether the State School Board staff will be able to rely on some of the best teachers in their subjects in the future being willing to serve on curriculum standards committees. Why should they spend months or years on a project to see 150 amendments brought to their work?"

In a previous 8-7 vote, the board decided not to amend the meteorology standards to remove a standard that "called for students to be taught how to evaluate proposed designed solutions intended to reduce the impacts of climate change," as NCSE previously reported.

Glenn Branch
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Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.