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September 27, 2000 Wednesday
STATE GETS LOW GRADES ON EVOLUTION;
STANDARDS DON'T HAVE NAME FOR IT
BYLINE: By Jeremy Manier, Tribune Staff Writer.
Illinois' standards for teaching the theory of evolution rank among the
worst in the nation, according to a state-by-state report released Tuesday.
The survey by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation gave the state a D, citing the
standards' failure even to mention evolution by name. Such omissions can
damage science education because state learning standards shape the
achievement tests and textbooks that students receive, the report said.
"[Illinois] wasn't the worst state, but it was pretty bad," said study author
Lawrence Lerner, a professor emeritus of natural sciences and mathematics at
California State University, Long Beach.
Illinois education officials said Tuesday, however, that the state's
standards likely will be changed to include evolution when they are revised
"If they want to buzz us for not using the word, no problem," said Kim
Knauer, a spokeswoman for the state Board of Education. "In order to clear
things up, we'll use the word next time."
Nineteen states rated as badly or worse than Illinois in Tuesday's study,
including Kansas, whose standards Lerner berated as "a disgraceful paean to
Kansas touched off a national debate over evolution instruction last year,
when the state board of education deleted overt references to the theory from
learning standards. Alone among the states ranked in Tuesday's report, Kansas
received an F-minus. First formulated by the naturalist Charles Darwin in the
19th Century, the theory of evolution holds that living things pass on traits
that help them survive or reproduce. Over billions of years, this process has
yielded an incredible diversity of species that are adapted to specific
Although the majority of scientists accept evolution as a central organizing
principle of biology, it is opposed by some religious groups that support
creationism. Many creationists believe the earth has existed for only a few
thousand years, and that a divine power created every species as it exists
Conservative groups such as the Illinois Christian Coalition have taken
credit for removing evolution from the state's learning standards when they
were approved in 1997. In its place, students are required to "describe
processes by which organisms change over time."
In his report, Lerner said such language amounts to a meaningless euphemism
for "the E-word." He compared Illinois' wording to the superstition among
actors who refuse to utter the name of the play "Macbeth," referring to it
instead as "the Scottish play."
"Unfortunately, the result of such dodging is more damaging in science, where
terms have precise and well-defined meanings," Lerner wrote. "Some of these
states substitute the phrase 'change over time,' but that does not mean the
same thing. 'Evolution' has a different and broader meaning than the
euphemisms used to replace it."
Model learning standards developed by such groups as the American Association
for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences suggest
that students in early grades learn gradually about evolutionary principles,
including the finding that the earth is more than 6 billion years old.
Students in 7th grade and later might learn how sexual reproduction and
random mutations contribute to natural variation within species, Lerner said.
The study commissioned by the foundation, an advocate for research and reform
in elementary and secondary education, awarded 10 states an A for their
extensive treatment of evolutionary concepts. One state that performed
exceptionally well was Indiana.
"This was a bit of a surprise to everybody," Lerner said. "Sociologists
usually consider Indiana to be part of the Bible Belt. I don't think you can
say that just because a state is in the Bible Belt it will have lousy
On the other hand, some Northeastern states often considered more liberal,
such as Maine and New Hampshire, received an F.
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