The Wyoming Department of Education is seeking volunteers to help determine what students will be expected to know and do in science classes around the state, and the agency says documents that contain any part of a controversial set of K-12 science standards are off the table.
It's the next step in an ongoing debate over science standards in Wyoming, where the state Legislature recently banned benchmarks known as the Next Generation Science Standards due to their stance on global climate change. Before the legislative footnote blocking the standards passed in March, a committee of about 30 teachers and administrators unanimously agreed the state should adopt the standards.
The state will welcome new volunteers onto the committee, but it is not starting from scratch in its membership, said Laurie Hernandez, a standards supervisor at the department of education.
"We didn't want anybody to come back and say, 'It's all the old people, so it's all going to go the same direction,'" Hernandez told the Star-Tribune.
Members of the grassroots group Wyoming Citizens Opposing the Common Core recently volunteered to help review the standards. Hernandez said she could not verify whether they would be accepted onto the committee Tuesday.
All the original committee members who endorsed the Next Generation standards were invited back onto the committee; 18 will remain, Hernandez said. So far, the department has accepted 12 new volunteers: five parents, three business members, three community members and one elementary school teacher, she said. The committee will be capped at 45.
The initial committee was almost exclusively teachers and administrators. One parent served, Hernandez said.
"It was not intended to be exclusive in any way," she said. "We just didn’t have very much participation when we sent out a press release previously."
The department hopes to increase the amount of community participation in this, the second review process, Hernandez said.
Interested volunteers must fill out an online survey to sign up for the committee, according to an agency release.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, about 30 people had completed the department's online survey since it went live earlier that day, Hernandez said.
Volunteers are warned at the start of the survey that, "Legislatively, we are prohibited from reviewing or discussing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) or any document that contains portions of material from the NGSS."
Exactly how much the committee could use the standards as a resource or draw on the ideas behind the standards while still following the Legislature's edict was debated at length at the state board's last meeting in April.
But direction from Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill's leadership at the department has been clear, Hernandez said.
"The direction I have been given recently is that no portion or any documents that have any portion of the NGSS are to be reviewed in the committee," she said.
Hernandez said any committee member is welcome to bring any set of standards they would like to consider. She will provide information regarding current or former science standards in California, Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina and the District of Columbia, in addition to a framework from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
A school district in Gillette has tested the higher-level thinking required by the standards for about a year. About 30 teachers there participated in the project, which is funded through a federal grant and is expected to expand into other classrooms and grade levels next year.
But if any committee member suggests part of the Next Generation Science Standards during the committee's meetings, which are expected to start in July, Hernandez said she will intervene.
"As a facilitator, I will have to say, 'I'm sorry, we cannot consider those,'" she said. "They contain parts of the Next Generation Science Standards, which are off the table."