The Ohio Resource Center and the Alignment of Resources to the Ohio Science Standards

Robert P. Lattimer

Douglas D. Rudy

Science Excellence for All Ohioans (SEAO)

SUMMARY

In December of 2002, the State Board of Education adopted standards in Science that substantially incorporate the "teach the controversy" approach to instruction in biological origins. Specifically, in a Grade 10 benchmark and indicator, the standards call upon students to "Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." We refer to this as the "critical analysis" language. The Grade 10 standards also include a "definition of science" indicator that allows for consideration of all logical explanations for phenomena in nature.

The Ohio Resource Center (ORC) is a state-funded agency that provides resources (mostly on-line lesson plans) to support the state's Academic Content Standards in Mathematics, Science, and Reading. We have examined the ORC-recommended resources to determine if they are aligned with the Grade 10 Science benchmarks and indicators. We paid particular attention to the lessons listed by ORC as resources for the "critical analysis" benchmark and the "definition of science" indicator. It is clear that several ORC resources are not aligned to these standards. Overall, the ORC-recommended materials adopt an "evolution only" stance on biological origins, which is in direct conflict with the intent of the State Board of Education.

In June of 2003 the Ohio General Assembly passed Am. Sub. H.B. 95 (the biennial budget bill). This contains an appropriation for the ORC (Section 89.11), and the bill specifically states that the ORC "shall not make available resources that are inconsistent with the K-12 science standards and policies as adopted by the State Board of Education." We recommend that the State Board and/or General Assembly provide oversight to ensure that the ORC resources are consistent with the new Science Standards. Any resources that are not aligned should be removed or modified.

BACKGROUND AND DISCUSSION

On December 10, 2002, Ohio's State Board of Education adopted Academic Content Standards in Science by a vote of 18-0. This was the climax to a two-year period in which statewide, national, and even international attention was focused on Ohio over the teaching of biological origins (the study of the origin, development, and diversity of life on earth).

During the Science Standards debate, Science Excellence for All Ohioans (www.sciohio.org) recommended a "teach the controversy" approach to instruction in biological origins. This includes three points: (a) teaching the evidence for and against biological evolution (macroevolution - the theory of undirected common descent), (b) permitting, but not requiring, teachers to discuss alternative theories such as intelligent design, and (c) adopting a definition of science that allows for consideration of all logical explanations for phenomena in nature. This approach was first introduced in Ohio by Dr. Stephen Meyer during the Panel Presentation in Columbus on March 11, 2002.

During 2002 over 30,000 citizens contacted the Ohio Department of Education regarding the pending standards. A large majority of respondents requested that some form of teach-the-controversy be included in the new science standards. The Governor's office received more input on this topic than on any other issue during Gov. Taft's tenure. Again, most of the input favored some form of teach-the-controversy.

Two public opinion polls were conducted in Ohio, one by Zogby International (May 2002, sponsored by the Discovery Institute) and one by the Mason Dixon organization (June 2002, sponsored by the Cleveland Plain Dealer). Again, a large majority of Ohio citizens said they favored teaching the controversy over biological evolution.

Fortunately, the State Board of Education heeded the message from this unprecedented public response. In the fall of 2002, the State Board added language to the draft science standards that substantially incorporates the teach-the-controversy approach. A statement was added to Life Sciences, Grades 9-10, benchmark H: "Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.)" The same statement (changing the word "benchmark" to "indicator") was added as Life Sciences, Grade 10, indicator #23. A third change was the addition of a "traditional" definition of science as Scientific Ways of Knowing (SWOK), Grade 10, indicator #3: "Recognize that science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, based on observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, and theory building, which leads to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena." The stated intent of the State Board in adding the "critical analysis" language was (a) to teach evidence supporting and not supporting biological evolution and (b) to permit the discussion of alternative theories for biological origins.

The Academic Content Standards, K-12 Science document includes (p. 304) a list of "instructional resources" to "provide information for educators seeking practical and creative ways to implement standards-based instruction." The Ohio Resource Center for Mathematics, Science, and Reading (ORC) is a key organization that is listed to provide such resources.

According to the ORC website (www.ohiorc.org), the Center was established by the Ohio Board of Regents and is funded by the Ohio General Assembly. ORC is located in the College of Education of The Ohio State University, and it is administered by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse. The ORC website provides links to "best and promising practice resources" (mostly web-based lesson plans) that it says "have been aligned to the academic content standards." The clear implication of this statement is that the resources ORC has selected are intended to be consistent with the Ohio benchmarks and indicators.

In preparing this report, we reviewed the ORC resources that are listed for the Grade 10 benchmarks and indicators. (These cover Life Sciences for the most part, including evolutionary theory.) We paid particular attention to the lessons that are listed as resources for the "critical analysis" benchmark (Life Sciences H) and the "definition of science" indicator (Scientific Ways of Knowing #3). (Note that ORC does not reference any lessons to the "critical analysis" indicator - Life Sciences #23). Our objective was to determine if the selected resources were, indeed, "aligned" to the standards. In many cases we found that the alignment was satisfactory. However, it became clear during our study that several ORC resources are not aligned to the standards with regard to the "critical analysis" of biological evolution. Overall, the ORC-recommended materials adopt an "evolution only" stance on biological origins, which is in direct conflict with the intent of the State Board of Education.

Specifically, we discuss below five ORC resources (lesson plans) that are not-at-all aligned with the "critical analysis" language. This is true despite the fact that ORC lists four of the five as references for the "critical analysis" benchmark and/or the "definition of science" indicator! Overall these ORC-recommended lessons:

  1. Assume that macroevolution (the theory of common descent) is true,
  2. Fail to consider scientific evidence that challenges conventional Darwinian (macroevolutionary) theory,
  3. Adopt an "evolution only" stance on biological origins, disregarding or marginalizing alternative theories, and
  4. Employ a definition of science that only allows for consideration of naturalistic explanations for phenomena in nature.

In summary, these ORC-recommended resources ignore the clear intent of the State Board of Education to "investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." In June of 2003 the Ohio General Assembly passed Am. Sub. H.B. 95 (the biennial budget bill). This contains an appropriation for the ORC (Section 89.11), and the bill specifically states that the ORC "shall not make available resources that are inconsistent with the K-12 science standards and policies as adopted by the State Board of Education." We believe that the State Board and/or General Assembly needs to provide oversight to ensure that the resources cited by the Ohio Resource Center are truly aligned with the new science standards. Any resources that are not aligned should be removed or modified.

ORC-RECOMMENDED RESOURCES (LESSON PLANS).

For Life Sciences, Grades 9-10, benchmark H (the "critical analysis" benchmark), ORC recommends four lesson plans and one NAEP "assessment item." (NAEP, the National Assessments of Educational Progress, is known as the "nation's report card.") Three of the four the lessons (#1, 2, 3 below) are inconsistent with the "critical analysis" language. (The fourth lesson is called "Footsteps in Time" and deals with analysis of fossilized hominid footprints. The module assumes that human evolution occurred, but that is not the point of the lesson. Overall the content of the lesson is not particularly objectionable.)

For Life Sciences, Grade 10, indicator #23 (the "critical analysis" indicator), ORC does not list any resources.

For Scientific Ways of Knowing (SWOK), Grade 10, indicator #3 (the "definition of science" indicator), ORC recommends thirteen modules. Three of the lesson plans (#1, 2, 5 below) are inconsistent with the "definition of science" language. (The other ten lessons seem reasonably consistent with indicator #3.)

1. Chronology Lab. ORC #1242. This lesson is listed as a resource for the "critical analysis" benchmark (Life Sciences, Grades 9-10, benchmark H), and also for the "definition of science" indicator (SWOK, Grade 10, indicator #3).

This lesson is from the Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes (ENSI, www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb). Since several of the ORC lessons are from this organization, a brief review of ENSI's background and philosophy seems appropriate. According to their website, ENSI's objective is "to improve the teaching of evolution in High School Biology courses by encouraging teachers to teach evolutionary thinking in the context of a more complete understanding of modern scientific thinking...."

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE, Eugenie Scott, Executive Director) was instrumental in the founding of ENSI. ENSI held its first formal program in 1989. The ENSI website lists 32 "concepts" (statements of philosophy) which pertain to science and evolution. These are some of the ENSI concepts that are pertinent to our discussion:

  1. Science deals only with natural patterns and mechanisms.

9. The scientific view of the origin of life on earth is that it did not involve supernatural processes.

14. The groups-within-groups hierarchical pattern of Linnaean classification is a result of both extinction and branching from common descent.

17. The evidence that humans have evolved from non-humans is stronger than that for evolution within most other groups.

21. The production of genetic variation is random with regard to the adaptive requirements of the organism.

32. Biological evolution is one of the strongest scientific theories known.

From these concepts, it is apparent that ENSI adopts an "evolution only" stance regarding the teaching of the origin and development of life. ENSI automatically excludes non-naturalistic causes (such as intelligent design) from consideration. ENSI accepts the theory of macroevolution (descent from a common ancestry) and assumes that genetic change occurs by naturalistic, random processes. These presuppositions are antithetical to the practice of critical analysis of evolutionary theory.

Returning to the "Chronology Lab" lesson, the exercise develops a "provisional evolutionary tree" for human evolution. Students plot the alleged times of existence for several hominids on a two-dimensional time-line chart. They then try to connect various species to propose lines of common descent.

This lesson is inconsistent with the theme of critical analysis is several ways. First, the "Chronology" lesson (like all ENSI materials) assumes that common descent is a fact. That is, the lesson assumes that an evolutionary tree for humans exists. In actuality, the fossil evidence can certainly be interpreted in terms of common descent (the ENSI approach), but it can also be interpreted as a number of separate species which are not related by common ancestry. As with any set of fossils, similar features may suggest an evolutionary relationship, but there is no "pedigree" to prove this. In Icons of Evolution (2000), biologist Jonathan Wells puts it this way (p. 219): "the fossil record cannot establish ancestor-descendent relationships." Students engaged in critical analysis would be exposed to the tentative nature of the theory of common descent. This lesson does not provide this perspective.

Second, as pointed out in Icons (p. 210), "interpretations of the fossil evidence for human evolution are heavily influenced by personal beliefs and prejudices." In the ENSI lesson, different students may come up with different "evolutionary trees." The lesson does suggest that there are uncertainties regarding human evolutionary history, and this is good. The lesson does not point out, however, that virtually all scientists who study hominid fossils assume that humans did evolve via a common ancestry. This presupposition causes these scientists to look for and "find" evolutionary relationships where they may not in fact exist. This way of thinking should be critically examined, but the ENSI lesson ignores the possibility that hominid fossil evidence may not point to common ancestry.

Third, the fossils themselves leave a lot of room for interpretation. In Icons (p. 219), Wells points out that "individual specimens can be reconstructed in a variety of ways...." He adds (p. 220): "Someone looking for an intermediate form to plug into an ape-to-human sequence could pick whichever [artist-produced hominid] drawing seems to fit best." Some hominid fossils have even proven to be frauds (e.g., Piltdown man).

Fourth, one could get the impression from the ENSI lesson that hominid fossils are quite abundant and complete, but in fact the collection of hominid remains is quite sparse. Wells puts it this way (p. 225): "It seems that never in the field of science have so many based so much on so little." For more information, see Icons of Evolution, Chapter 11.

2. Comparison of Human and Chimpanzee Chromosomes. ORC #1273. This lesson is listed as a resource for the "critical analysis" benchmark (Life Sciences, Grades 9-10, benchmark H), and also for the "definition of science" indicator (SWOK, Grade 10, indicator #3).

This is another ENSI lesson. Students compare karyotypes (banding patterns in stained chromosomes) from humans and chimpanzees. Students also examine a primate cladogram (a diagram showing alleged evolutionary relationships among various primate species). The exercise would lead students to conclude that humans, apes, and monkeys all have a common ancestor, and that humans are most closely related (by evolution) to chimpanzees.

The study of karyotypes and cladograms is a useful instructional tool in biology, so the general scope of the lesson is not problematic. However, the lesson overall does not support the critical analysis of evolutionary theory, for several reasons.

First, as stated in the introduction, the lesson is "based on the assumption of evolutionary relationships." Humans, apes, and monkeys may - or may not - be related by a common ancestry. A goal of critical analysis is to examine evidence that supports and does not support macroevolution, the theory of common descent. By assuming that evolutionary relationships exist among the primates, one cannot undergo an objective analysis of the evidence.

Second, while common ancestry is one explanation for similarities in chromosomes among primate species, other explanations should also be considered. It is clear that various primate species have numerous similar anatomical features. Thus it is logical (without the need for common ancestry) that numerous chromosomal similarities might exist, since the chromosomes determine heredity.

Furthermore, all living systems have common physical and chemical requirements. That is, all species live in the same world and are subject to the same constraints imposed by the environment and natural laws. Thus biochemical similarities at the molecular (chromosomal) level should be expected. Various organisms having common "building blocks" promotes efficiency in developmental and metabolic pathways.

In another context, one could argue that common features and processes may be due to either "common ancestry" or else to a "common designer." Each theory has its merits. A more extensive discussion of the argument from biochemical similarities may be found in Of Pandas and People (2nd Edition, 1993, Chapter 6), by Percival Davis, Dean H. Kenyon, and Charles B. Thaxton.

Third, cladistics (biological classification based on supposed evolutionary relationships) is a field that should be viewed with healthy skepticism. The Linnaean classification system (which is still used to a large extent) was developed during the 18th century, long before the advent of Darwinian evolution. Linnaean classifications are logically based on similarities in form and function.

In cladistic methods, the main criterion is presumed evolutionary relationships. In this approach, morphological and biochemical similarities may be ignored if they seem inconsistent with evolutionary theory. Cladistic taxonomy is troublesome in practice. For example, evolutionist Richard Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker, 1996, p. 284) says "it is difficult to pin down the precise identity of ancestors, and there is a good case for not even trying to do so."

At the very least, cladograms such as the one used in this lesson should be viewed as tentative and speculative. One can neither prove, or disprove, evolutionary relationships that are proposed by cladists.

3. Investigating Natural Selection. ORC #426. This lesson is listed as a resource for the "critical analysis" benchmark (Life Sciences, Grades 9-10, benchmark H).

This lesson is taken from the textbook BSCS Biology: A Human Approach (1997). In this exercise students simulate the principles of natural selection. Colored paper dots are used to simulate heritable traits, and pieces of fabric with intricate designs are used to represent environments in which selection can occur. Dots of different colors are placed on a piece of fabric, and the students are given a few seconds to act as "predators" and collect dots off the cloth. The idea is that dots which contrast with the pattern on the fabric are more likely to be picked up (and thus eliminated from the "gene pool"). The dots remaining on the cloth will "survive" to the next generation.

If the exercise were to be used as a simple simulation of microevolution (a change in gene frequency within a population), there would be no problem. However, the lesson is used to uncritically support the idea of macroevolution (descent from a common ancestry via natural selection acting upon genetic variability). A stated outcome of the lesson is for students to learn that: "Natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the fossil record of ancient life forms, as well as for the striking molecular similarities observed among the diverse species of living organisms."

Thus, our primary concern is that the lesson fails to distinguish between microevolution, which is well supported experimentally, and macroevolution, which is ultimately based on similarities among organisms rather than experimentation. In critical analysis, two basic problems related to micro- vs. macroevolution should be discussed. These have been referred to as the "information creation problem" and the "extrapolation problem." For more information, see The Wedge of Truth (2000, Chapter 3) by Phillip E. Johnson.

Let us first consider the "information creation problem." Macroevolution involves the formation of new body plans and body parts. This being the case, in critical analysis one must ask the question "where does the new biological information to produce the new parts come from?" Darwinists would say it comes from genetic variability that arises primarily from mutations. It is highly questionable, however, that mutations have sufficient "new feature producing" power to enact the required changes. Mutations can certainly cause very minor changes, most of which are harmful to the organism, but there is no experimental evidence that mutations can generate the complex new information that is needed to form new body parts and plans.

Next let us consider the "extrapolation problem." Darwinists claim that minor changes in gene frequency (as observed, for example, in domestic breeding) can over long periods of time lead to the formation of entirely new species. That is, microevolution can be extrapolated to macroevolution. One can make a good argument that the genetic mechanisms responsible for microevolution (primarily natural selection acting upon genetic variability) are insufficient to produce macroevolutionary change, even if extended over long periods of time. There is no direct evidence for macroevolution; it is only inferred from observable microevolutionary change.

Critical analysis of evolutionary theory would consider both the "information creation" and "extrapolation" problems. The "Investigating Natural Selection" lesson does not consider these issues critically, however. It merely assumes that microevolutionary "changes could eventually lead to new species. The process of natural selection, then, provides an explanation for the relatedness of organisms and for biological change across time."

4. Molecular Biology and Phylogeny. ORC #1272. This is another ENSI lesson. It is referenced to Life Sciences, Grade 10, Benchmark E and indicator #12. While it is not referenced to the "critical analysis" benchmark (Life Sciences, Grades 9-10, benchmark H), the lesson is nevertheless problematic. Students compare differences between the amino acid sequences of a protein (cytochrome c) from seven animals to infer evolutionary relationships. Students also compare their results with a cladogram (based on anatomical similarities) containing the same animals. Students learn that the two types of information "show independent confirmation of the [evolutionary] relationships within the same group of animals."

This exercise deals with the subject of biochemical similarities. In this regard, the message is similar to that of another ENSI lesson discussed earlier, "Comparison of Human and Chimpanzee Chromosomes." Thus our concerns with the "Molecular Biology and Phylogeny" lesson are largely the same as for the "Human/Chimpanzee" exercise.

First, the lesson uncritically assumes that the theory of common descent is true. With regard to the sequencing of cytochrome c, the lesson states: "We assume that the more similar (fewer differences in) the sequence of amino acids, the more closely related they are." In another place, it is stated that "we would expect those organisms with fewer differences in their protein amino-acid sequences to be derived from common ancestors more recently, and therefore to be more closely related."

In critical analysis one would not make these assumptions. Instead, one would consider arguments that both support and do not support these assumptions.

Second, common ancestry is only one possible explanation for similarities in protein sequences in different organisms. See our discussion on the "Human/Chimpanzee" lesson for more details.

Third, the authors of this lesson have selected an example that just happens to support their view of evolutionary relationships among the seven animals. In actuality, protein sequence comparisons vary widely in their prediction of evolutionary relationships! This is discussed in some detail in Of Pandas and People, Chapter 6. Pandas, in fact, also discusses cytochrome c sequences and concludes (p. 139): "When we get down to the business of trying to establish an evolutionary series of sequences, we cannot find the linear, primitive-to-advanced arrangement we had expected." At the end of their discussion the authors of Pandas state (p. 140): "In this and countless other comparisons, it has proved impossible to arrange protein sequences in a macroevolutionary series corresponding to the expected transitions from fish > amphibian > reptile > mammal." (We might note that both the ENSI lesson and the Pandas book looked at cytochrome c sequences in seven animals; however, the only animal common to both studies was the turtle.)

In short, there are two sides to the protein sequence comparison argument. The ENSI lesson selects a set of data that purports to support the common descent theory. Critical analysis of this supposition is lacking.

5. Of Sunsets, Souls, and Senses. ORC #828. This lesson is listed as a resource for the "definition of science" indicator (SWOK, Grade 10, indicator #3).

This is yet another ENSI lesson. It engages students to give examples of topics that can be studied by science, and those that cannot. It is designed to help students understand the nature of science.

Our main objection to this lesson is that it does not support the "definition of science" used in the Ohio Science Standards (SWOK, Grade 10, indicator #3). Specifically, the following is listed as an assumption in the lesson: "Natural processes are sufficient to explain the natural world; non-natural processes are unnecessary." It is further stated: "Scientific explanations cannot include supernatural forces...." These statements are not aligned with Grade 10, indicator #3, which includes within science the consideration of all logical explanations.

Second, the lesson employs a falsification criterion for science: "Scientific explanations must be potentially disprovable." (emphasis in the original) It is further stated: "It must be possible to disprove hypotheses." Philosophers of science disagree on the "falsification" criterion; some would agree with it, but many would not.

It should be noted that theories about the origin and development of life are inherently non-falsifiable. This is true of macroevolution (common descent), and it is also true of intelligent design (ID). Using the ENSI criterion, neither macroevolution nor ID should be considered as a valid theory in science. For a detailed discussion of this topic, see section V of the Utah Law Review (2000) 39, by David K. DeWolf, Stephen C. Meyer, and Mark E. DeForrest.

In terms of critical analysis, the demarcation problem (deciding what is and is not science) could form the basis of a good class discussion on the nature of science. But the ENSI lesson is both (a) inconsistent with SWOK, Grade 10, indicator #3, and (b) unjustifiably narrow in its interpretation of the nature of science.

 

Robert P. Lattimer

Douglas D. Rudy

October 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This site sponsored by HelpfulSites.com and its Vacation Condo Rental affiliate.