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It's been roughly 20 years since science classes in Utah were updated, but the state school board is willing to wait a little longer.

A set of proposed standards for middle school science was recently released for 90 days of public review, which included a series of town hall meetings that drew loud, capacity crowds.

But school board members ordered Utah Office of Education staff back to the drawing board on Friday to incorporate public feedback into a full rewrite, prior to an additional, 30-day review period.

"It seems appropriate to have an additional period of public review for a lot of different reasons," state Superintendent Brad Smith said. "I believe we're ending up with a substantially better product."

Friday's vote is the second time the board has postponed action on the new standards, which will update the concepts students learn in sixth through eighth grade.

An initial public review period was expected to begin in February, but was delayed for a month by a committee of board members.

Board member Leslie Castle questioned whether the push to rewrite and review the standards was a distraction meant to kill the proposed changes.

She said that as the debate drags on, only "religious zealots" will remain, as moderate members of the public are lost to attrition.

"We are going to have not only the most underfunded students in this country, but we're going to have the stupidest ones," Castle said.

The proposed standards, in their current form, are largely based on the Next Generation Science Standards, a series of grade-level expectations written by a consortium of national experts.

The out-of-state origins have riled critics, who worry students would be subjected to political bias on controversial subjects like evolution and climate change.

During the public comment portion of the board's Friday meeting, Morgan County resident Lydia Nuttall said science education should include multiple theories on the origins of human life.

Holding up a bag of Cheerios, she compared education to meal planning and said students should be offered multiple options for breakfast, rather than a single item.

"They need to be taught something more than just one ideology for the origins of mankind," Nuttall said. "We can't say we have freedom if we're just teaching one way of thinking."

Evolution and climate change are already taught in Utah schools. And board member Laura Belnap said some resemblance to the Next Generation model is inevitable.

"They're going to rewrite everything," she said. "That doesn't mean they might not align and or be similar with NGSS, because there are certain things that are just science."

Ricky Scott, a science specialist with the Utah Office of Education, said the major differences between the current and proposed standards are the addition of engineering to encourage hands-on learning and new content regarding analog and digital waves.

"We live in a digital world, so it's important to make that distinction," he said.

Beyond those additions, the new standards would significantly shuffle existing content areas, Scott said, reassigning subjects to different grade levels and forming new connections between topics.

"The change became so overwhelming that it was best, simply, to start over," Scott said.

Several board members questioned the need for a new set of standards. Board member Terryl Warner said she had spoken with only one teacher in her district who supported an update, while others worried about a lack of resources to implement the changes.

Scott said the board is still on track for a pilot implementation of the standards during the 2016-2017 school year, with a full rollout expected the following year.

But he added that the longer the board waits to make a final decision, the longer schools and students are kept from improved and updated science standards.

"We have teachers that are just biting, waiting to know if we are moving forward or not," he said.

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