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In the NGSS, a Dogmatic Standard on Evolution

Sarah Chaffee

Inaccurate teaching about evolution is widespread, as Jonathan Wells’s review of textbooks shows. The 2013 Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, which most states have adopted verbatim or used to inform their science standards, are one sided on the issue as well.

I’ve recently been perusing Proficiency Scales for the New Science Standards: A Framework for Science Instruction and Assessment, by Robert J. Marzano and David C. Yanoski. Marzano is a big name in education. The Marzano Framework and the Danielson Framework are the two most prominent teacher evaluation models. Proficiency scales are frameworks that help teachers grade students according to a state standard, to measure their progress of learning. 

This book provides proficiency scales for each of the NGSS. Proficiency scales are generally on a 4-point scale, with a score of 3 meaning meets standard. 2. A score of 4 means a student “demonstrates in-depth inferences and applications that go beyond what was taught” according to Marzano. Scores lower than 2 demonstrate partial success at 2, with or without teacher help. 

A Dogmatic Standard

I’d like to examine the proficiency scale for one of the most dogmatic standards on evolution in the NGSS: 

Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence (for example, communicate orally, graphically, or textually to give evidence for common ancestry and biological evolution — such as similarities in DNA sequences, anatomical structures, and the order of appearance of structures in embryological development — and to explain how each line of evidence relates to common ancestry and biological evolution).

What does Marzano list for score 2.0 criteria? The student will: 

(a) Recognize or recall specific vocabulary (for example, anatomical structure, biochemical characteristic, biological evolution, common ancestry, degree of kinship, development, DNA sequence, embryological, evidence for unity of life, order of appearance, origin of life, phylogenetics, shared characteristic, similarity, structure).

(b) Describe similarities in DNA sequences, anatomical structures, and order of appearance of structures in embryological development of various organisms.

(c) Describe the process of biological evolution.

What Is a Student to Do?

Let’s analyze each of these in turn. For (a) some of these vocabulary terms are a great choice, but some are somewhat complex to define (origin of life or biological evolution, for example). More importantly, there are issues with using phylogenetics and embryological development as evidence for common ancestry and biological evolution. Okay, (b). Jonathan Wells (Icons of Evolution, Zombie Science both address this) and others have written extensively on homology and embryology in the past and how they fail to support evolution. And (c). Well, scientists are still trying to figure out how to “describe the process of biological evolution.” A student performing below standard is supposed to be able to do this? And what specifically is the student to describe — neo-Darwinian theory? Genetic drift? Evo-devo?

The Marzano proficiency scales are undoubtedly used by a myriad of science teachers. At least on evolution, that’s contributing to inaccurate education.  

Photo credit: Yustinus Tjiuwanda via Unsplash.