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Ohio's grade on science standards misused, evaluator says

Review wasn't meant to defend lesson that questions evolution Saturday, January 21, 2006 Mike Lafferty THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

A biologist who wrote a national evaluation of states' science standards said he is angry that an Ohio Board of Education member used the grade card to defend a lesson plan that urges students to question evolution.

Ohio board member Michael Cochran used the "B" the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Ohio during a board meeting on Jan. 10 to justify approving the lesson.

"When evidently somebody on that board said our B grade shows that we thought the lesson is OK, that really (upset me). This is a very bad lesson," said Paul Gross, who wrote the Fordham Institute report.

"The whole thing is dishonest. The whole thing is a Trojan horse."

The Fordham Institute committee evaluated the science standards — the educational goals — for all 49 states and the District of Columbia but was not charged with examining the underlying lesson plans, according to an institute spokeswoman.

Gross is former director of the marine biology laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and former provost of the University of Virginia.

Cochran could not be reached for comment, nor could Deborah Owens Fink, another board member who has been outspoken in favor of the lesson.

Gross said Ohio's grade would have been lower if his committee had seen the state's lesson.

Still, Ohio's grade will stand until the next national review, perhaps within two years, said Terry Ryan, vice president for Ohio programs and policy for the Fordham Institute.

Gross said Ohio's lesson is a joke.

"What this lesson does is to say to a student with brains, ‘Anything else you learn in science is as you got it, but evolution, we don't really know about that,' " he said.

The lesson, "Critical Analysis of Evolution," is one of 10 concerning evolution in the 10 thgrade curriculum. Critics say the lesson suggests that students debate the overall idea of evolution — instead of parts of it — and provides ideas to challenge the theory. It also lists several intelligent-design and creationist Web sites.

A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education defended the standards and the lesson.

"The process respected opinions on all sides of the issue," J.C. Benton said. "We're going to stick with the B and move on."

Intelligent design is based on the idea that, because living things are so complex, they must have required intervention by an intelligent designer, possibly God.

Critics say this concept is a way to slip biblical creationism into schools.

Yesterday, the Discovery Institute, a Seattle organization that backs teaching intelligent design, issued a statement supporting the Ohio standards.

"Darwinists are now moving to censor Ohio's teaching of scientific evidence, which challenges Darwinian evolution," the statement said.

Ohio was among 19 states that earned an A or B in the latest Fordham Review, the State of State Science Standards 2005. California, Virginia, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Indiana, New York and New Mexico earned top marks.

Overall, Gross said, Ohio's science standards were verbose but good.

Washington University biologist Ursula Goodenough said she and the four other members of the Fordham Institute committee supported Gross' evaluation.

"There was this sentence that kept being repeated about how evolutionary theory would be given critical analysis," she said. "Science needs critical analysis. To single out evolutionary biology as needing critical analysis is stupid."

Copyright © 2006, The Columbus Dispatch

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