A set of national genetic science standards for elementary through high school students in the United States offers a modest improvement over state-based standards, but still falls short of conveying some key genetic concepts, according to a new study by science educators with the American Society of Human Genetics.
The analysis is part of a multi-year effort to improve genetic literacy in the U.S. Several surveys have found large gaps in the general public’s understanding of some core genetic concepts such as patterns of inheritance, the genetic basis of evolution, and genetic variation.
A survey done in 2013 by 23andMe found that while more than 80 percent of people expressed interest in genetic testing, many did not understand some basic facts about genetics. Genomic science is already changing healthcare, making it that much more important for individuals to have at least a basic grasp of the science. 23andMe launched its academic program, in part, to offer educators more resources to teach genomics, while 23andMe’s popular Genetics 101 video series has been a mainstay for anyone wanting to learn more about the science. But much more is needed to bridge the gap in genetic literacy in the US.
The ASHG study looked at how effective the new national science standards were at addressing key concepts in genetics. The standards were developed in 2013 by the nonprofit organization Achieve, Inc., along with officials in 26 partner states, and were incorporated into existing National Science Education Standards. So far 13 states have adopted the national standards. The study compared those standards to separate science standards that have been adopted in different states, and they looked at whether these different standards adequately covered 19 core genetic concepts that the American Society of Human Genetics identified as key for students to grasp. While the national standards seemed to offer some improvement, many of the 19 core concepts were inadequately covered or not cover at all, according to the report.
“The NGSS are the first comprehensive science standards recommendations issued in nearly 20 years, and to the extent that states adopt them, the effects on public genetic literacy could be far-reaching,” said Michael Dougherty, PhD, Director of Education of ASHG, who led the study.
Comparing each state standards with the national standard, the study found that the national standards addressed genetics core concepts considerably better in 15 states, about equally well in 28 states, and not as well in 7 states.
While the national standards were deemed to offer a modest improvement, reviewers who were involved in the study did not offer high praise for how well the key genetic concepts were addressed by the standards.