Hart schools chief: Evolution is viewed as fact in state test

Hart County's school superintendent is arguing that a new test that Kentucky high school students will take for the first time next spring will treat evolution as fact, not theory, and will require schools to teach that way.

Superintendent Ricky D. Line raised the issue in recent letters and email messages to state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and Kentucky Board of Education members. Line wants them to reconsider the "Blueprint" for Kentucky's new end-of-course test in biology.

"I have a deep concern about the increased emphasis on the evolution content required," Line wrote. "After carefully reviewing the Blueprint, I find the increase is substantial and alarming."

Line contends that the Blueprint essentially would "require students to believe that humans ... evolved from primates such as apes and ... were not created by God."

"I have a very difficult time believing that we have come to a point ... that we are teaching evolution ... as a factual occurrence, while totally omitting the creation story by a God who is bigger than all of us," he wrote. "My feeling is if the Commonwealth's site-based councils, school board members, superintendents and parents were questioned ... one would find this teaching contradictory to the majority's belief systems."

Holliday insisted Monday that Kentucky will not be teaching evolution as fact. Currently, teachers can discuss theories of creation other than evolution but they are not required to teach them.

In an earlier response to Line, Holliday wrote that end-of-course tests are intended to reflect college and career readiness and "promote more rigor and depth in traditional courses." Educators would be doing Kentucky students a disservice by "denying them the opportunity to learn science concepts required to obtain that goal," Holliday wrote.

Line, however, said Monday that Holliday's comments didn't calm his fears.

"My argument is, do we want our children to be taught these things as facts? Personally, I don't," Line said. "I don't think life on earth began as a one-celled organism. I don't think that all of us came from a common ancestor ... I don't think the Big Bang theory describes the explanation of the origin of the universe."

The end-of-course assessments are mandated under the wide-ranging education reform passed by the 2009 Kentucky General Assembly. Students taking English II, Algebra II, U.S. history and biology will be required to take the tests, which measure what students learned in those courses.

Results from the tests will figure into individual schools' scores. Results also will count for as much as 20 percent of students' final grades in the four courses. The exams will be given for the first time in spring 2012.

The "Blueprint" to which Line refers sets out what the test in biology would cover. He said his district's science teachers have told him that they will have to devote large amounts of classroom time to evolution in order to prepare students for the test requirements.

"I asked why, and they said that a large percentage of the test is on genetics and evolution," he said.

The vast majority of scientists contend that evolution is an accepted cornerstone of modern science, and that there is no real scientific debate over the concept.

Line counters that "it's interesting that the great majority of scientists felt Pluto was a planet until a short time ago, and now they have totally changed that. There are scientists who don't believe that evolution happened."

Line also recently raised objections to the Kentucky Education Department's plan to join 19 other states in developing "Next Generation" learning standards in science.

"I am concerned with the current standards of some of these states," he said in a message to state board members. "I do not believe that our Commonwealth's parents would be in agreement with the teachings from some of these states."

Line cited New Jersey, California, Tennessee and several other states where content examples involve evolution, the Big Bang theory and the origins of life on earth.

Holliday said Monday that no other response to Line is planned now.

"I think what was unclear to Ricky is that we certainly are not teaching evolution as a fact, but as a scientific theory," he said. "That's been in the program of study for a number of years."

Holliday said he was "a little surprised" that evolution had come up as an issue now.

"It's something that kind of comes and goes," he said. "Kansas is a state that has dealt with it, and Texas has dealt with it. It's an important topic for a lot of people. But we really haven't assessed it before as we will in biology."