Teton County School District administrators are looking forward to implementing new science standards after more than a decade without an update.

The Wyoming State Board of Education voted unanimously Sept. 23 to approve the 2016 Wyoming Science Content and Performance Standards, the first new science standards in 13 years.

Superintendent Gillian Chapman said she “absolutely” thinks standards should be timely.

“We are learning and growing every day,” Chapman said. “It’s really important that we’re constantly looking at what we’re teaching our students to make sure it is relevant and up to date. We want to grow critical thinkers that know where to look for information and know how to apply it and ask questions about their environment.”

The standards are now being sent to Gov. Matt Mead for a signature. If Mead signs, the district will develop local curricula to implement the standards by the 2020-2021 school year. Once signed by the governor, Wyoming’s new science standards will form the basis of new statewide science assessments.

The standards went through a long review process. Over the last 18 months 10 public meetings were held across the state and 377 public comments were collected, according to a press release. The Wyoming Department of Education also extended the mandatory 45-day public comment period to 64 days to further review and edit the standards.

“We are very pleased to be moving forward with new science standards built by an engaged and diverse group of educators, administrators, business people and parents throughout Wyoming,” Pete Gosar, chairman of the state board, said in a press release. “The public input process on this was lengthy and robust.”

The standards are modeled after the Next Generation Science Standards written by the National Research Council in collaboration with the National Science Teachers Association.

The standards are also customized for Wyoming students by addressing traditional science concepts but connecting them to engineering and technological applications. Connections to other disciplines like math are also emphasized.

One of the sticking points on the science standards was how to address climate change.

“In the past, districts had much more latitude and the teachers had the academic freedom to teach concepts in the classroom provided that they cover all the topics required by the state,” Chapman said regarding whether climate science — deemed a “foundational concept” — has been taught in Teton County schools.

In 2014 the state board was prepared to adopt new science standards based on the Next Generation ones, but the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill that prohibited the board from “any review or adoption” of the Next Generation standards.

In revising standards for Wyoming use the committee retained the core standards on climate change, including the expectation that students investigate the role of human activities as factors in the current rise of Earth’s temperature. According to NASA, August 2016 tied July 2016 for being the hottest month since record-keeping began in 1880.

At the time, then-board chairman Ron Micheli told the Casper Star Tribune that, “I don’t accept, personally, that climate change is a fact. The standards are very prejudiced in my opinion against fossil fuel development.” The author of the legislative ban bill, former State Rep. Matt Teeters, said, “The standards handle global warming as settled science. There’s all kind of social implications involved in that that I don’t think would be good for Wyoming.”

Jackson Hole Middle School and Jackson Hole High School do touch on climate change, but the amount of detail is up to individual teachers. Superintendent Chapman said that in order to have an accurate overall answer, she’d have to poll all the teachers and that wouldn’t be done in time for this story.

“What teachers do is break it down into the study of weather, the study of different kinds of climates, the study of different ecosystems,” Jackson Hole Middle School Principal Debbie Pfortmiller said. “They also do acknowledge and look at the different beliefs surrounding global warming.”

Principal Scott Crisp had a slightly different answer.

“At Jackson Hole High School students review climate in the context of ecology,” he said in an email. “When studying various topics, including those related to ecology, students look at scientific evidence and are asked to draw conclusions and to discuss.”

The district will have three years to implement the new standards.

“We have the gift of time in order to really dive deep into these and figure out how to instruct,” Chapman said.

The district is already beginning the process. Holly Voorhees-Carmical, director of support services, said during the teacher in-service day last week that science teachers for grades K-12 were together in a room for the first time in many years to look at standards.

“They were thrilled to be able to talk to each other,” Voorhees-Carmical said. “The biggest area of excitement is that students will go deep into the scientific process.”

Voorhees-Carmical also said the new standards “upped the rigor” and “pumped up the level of thinking that students are expected to know and be able to do.”

State Superintendent Jillian Balow is pleased with the progress as the standards move forward.

“We’re almost to the finish line, and when we get there we’ll have some of the best science standards in the nation,” Balow said in a press release. “We’ll have Wyoming science standards for Wyoming kids that ensure that all of our students will be knowledgeable about science, knowledgeable about the scientific process and inquiry and ready for the next steps in life.”

Chapman agreed.

“I’m excited about the Wyoming science standards,” she said. “I think they are well thought out. We’re growing future scientists in the community.”

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079 or schools@jhnewsandguide.com.

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