REP. PAUL AMADOR: Setting the record straight on Idaho science standards

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Here are some of the headlines or comments I have seen or heard over the past several days:

• “Climate change could soon be scrubbed from history… at least in Idaho”

• “Lawmakers Strip Climate Change from Science Standards”

• “Changes made by Idaho Committee will Require New Textbooks”

Unfortunately, in modern society where our consumption of media has taken on a very short attention span, it has become increasingly easy to jump to conclusions — from something you read on Facebook or a snippet on the news. In actuality, none of the headlines or comments mentioned above are grounded in reality.

I hope to provide some clarity on the history of our science standards in Idaho and what actually occurred in the House Education Committee last week.

First, an understanding of our standards setting process: Idaho statute requires that academic standards be evaluated every five years. This review is done by the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and because of a specific constitutional requirement, the Idaho Legislature.

Our previous set of Idaho science standards was originally adopted in 2001 and has received only very minor updates in the interim. The standards have been given a rating of “F” by the Fordham Institute for their overall quality. In 2016, the State Department of Education brought forward a completely new set of science standards that were largely based on the work of a working group known as the Next Generation Science Standards. This consortium of 26 states, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Research Council worked to build a new framework of standards that states could voluntarily adopt in whole or in part.

Although I was not an elected official to the Idaho Legislature in 2016, I can tell you that the entire set of newly proposed science standards, based largely on the NGSS Standards, were rejected that year.

In 2017, the first year I held office, the same science standards were returned to the Legislature for consideration. During the 2017 House hearing on this issue, there were two motions: one that I made which was to pass the standards in their entirety with no changes, and the other motion was to approve the standards with the exception of five of the 327 standards. Based on the sequence of the motions, we voted on the motion with the five exceptions; that motion passed with my dissent.

Because those five standards were rejected in 2017 and the complicated administrative rules process in the Idaho Legislature, the State Department of Education was required to return in 2018 to present the committee with another update to the standards related to the rejection of the five standards. Between the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions, the department worked with a committee and the public to adjust the five excepted standards to better meet the expectations of the 2017 motion.

During the 2018 House Education hearing, there were again two motions on approval of the science standards: one to fully approve the standards and the other to approve the standards with the exception of a single standard. The first motion to approve the standards in their entirety was defeated on a vote of five in favor and 11 against; I voted in favor. After the first motion failed, there were essentially two choices remaining: a) either approve the compromise motion to remove one standard, or b) potentially kill the entire slate of new science standards and revert to our 2001 standards. Ultimately the new science standards were approved by the committee with the exception of the single standard, with my assent. My voting decisions were based on feedback from constituents about the need to adopt standards that are up to date, relying on experts in the field, and understanding the need to move forward on the issue.

So where do we stand now? Do we have science in Idaho? What about climate change? Without political spin, Idaho will now have a vastly more modern set of science standards in place. The House committee approved 326 of 327 proposed standards. Also, it is important to note that the state sets minimum standards, so any school district is welcome to go above and beyond the state standards and adopt any curriculum and textbook that meets the minimum standards.

The one standard that was removed actually does not reference climate change, which may be surprising since most of the media headlines specifically highlighted the removal of climate change from Idaho standards. The removed standard was ESS3-4-1, which is a fourth-grade standard and reads, “Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses effect on the environment.” At least six standards that reference climate change were approved by the committee.

Although I did not necessarily support the removal of any standards, the passing of 326 of 327 was a much better outcome for the students of Idaho than returning to the 2001 science standards. We now have modern set of standards that will help prepare our students for the current times and future workforce.

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