In a final vote, the Texas Board of Education approved on Friday new language that requires science teachers to encourage students to "critique" and examine "all sides" of scientific theories.
In adopting the new science standards, the board dropped a 20-year requirement that teachers address both the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. The vote was 13-2.
The new curriculum will be in place for the next decade.
"Texas now has the most progressive science standards on evolution in the entire nation," said Dr. John West, Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, in a statement. "Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned."
Although critics of evolution praised the move, it wasn't a total victory for them.
The Board rejected two amendments that were written by Chairman Don McLeroy. They required students to study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection of species, according to The Dallas Morning News.
"Science loses. Texas loses, and the kids lose because of this," said a disappointed McLeroy, as reported by the Dallas publication. McLeroy believes many aspects of Charles Darwin's theory are not supported by fossil records.
Pro-evolutionists were pleased with the decision to drop McLeroy's proposals. However, some questioned the board for adopting compromise language in the areas of fossil records and the complexity of the cell. New language also requires students to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning those two areas.
"Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks," said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, according to the Associated Press.
The newly adopted standard states: "In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."
Board member Barbara Cargill, however, said the new standards were "more clear in the language and using words that aren't seen as code words" that helped convince the board to "agree that this is how we'll teach all sides of scientific explanation, using scientific evidence," as reported by AP.
Discovery Institute's West also responded to the concerns by pro-evolutionists, assuring them that the new curriculum does not open the door to teaching religion.
"Contrary to the claims of the evolution lobby, absolutely nothing the Board did promotes 'creationism' or religion in the classroom. Groups that assert otherwise are lying, plain and simple. Under the new standards, students will be expected to analyze and evaluate the scientific evidence for evolution, not religion. Period."
The new science curriculum standards will take effect with the 2010-2011 school year. Texas is one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation and thus has significant influence nationwide as publishers adapt their material to its standards.