K-12 Education

Iowa education board adopts new science standards

'By the time some of these students graduate from college, some of the jobs don't even exist today'

DES MOINES — The state’s education board Thursday unanimously approved new science learning benchmarks for students in kindergarten through high school.

The standards include, over the objections of some, benchmarks on understanding climate change and evolution.

Iowa’s new science-learning benchmarks are adapted from the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed in 2013 by multiple national science and education groups in collaboration with 26 states, including Iowa.

Iowa became the 13th state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, according to tracking by the National Science Teachers Association.

The standards are not a curriculum; rather, they spell out science-based knowledge and skills that students should possess at each grade level.

“I think it’s going to help our students realize that science isn’t something that’s all about facts and figures,” said Jim Pifer, a science teacher in the Southeast Polk Community School District and a member of the review team that made the recommendations. “It’s more ... about processes, and it’s about a way of solving problems, and it’s a way of communicating and collaborating.”

The review team consisted of 19 Iowa educators and science experts from the public and private sectors who spent months developing the recommendations.

“By the time some of these students graduate from college, some of the jobs don’t even exist today,” Pifer said. “The job market is changing so rapidly that we really need to have students that are able to think on their feet and collaborate and problem-solve because we don’t know what those problems are going to be 10 years from now.”

The climate change and evolution concepts drew concerns from a small percentage of the Iowans who weighed in on the standards as well as some state lawmakers. Pew Research surveys conducted last year showed more than a third of Americans do not believe in evolution, and half do not believe climate change is caused primarily by human activity.

Pifer said the standards review team focused on data when deciding whether to address those concerns.

“From our point of view as a group looking at that data, we really tried to keep some of our personal things or some of those biases that we might have, we tried to keep that out of the discussion as much as possible,” Pifer said.

He said the group looked at it from the perspective of a student looking at the issue for the first time and decided it was not biased.

Mike May, one of two board members who at a previous meeting expressed reservations over the inclusion of climate change and evolution in the standards, on Thursday joined in approving the recommendation. He lauded the benchmarks’ shift to more hands-on and analytical science learning.

“What’s most exciting to me is the way we (will) approach science and teach it,” May said. “The potential here is just off the wall. It’s terrific.”

An advocacy group that petitioned the board to support the standards applauded Thursday’s unanimous vote.

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“All Iowa kids will now have access to a world-class science education that includes learning the scientific evidence about human-caused climate change, which will help them develop solutions to the largest problem facing their generation,” said a statement from Maria Filippone of Iowa Climate Parents.

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