COLUMBIA - How evolution is taught in South Carolina was debated once again on Tuesday, despite the Department of Education's June announcement that it was moving forward with the state's 2005 biology standards.

A six-member panel voted Tuesday unanimously on a change to the state's biology standards touted as a compromise that would encourage a discussion among students with the topic of evolution.

The recommendation now goes to the Education Oversight Committee and the Board of Education for approval, which is required by both bodies for the change to take effect.

The vote came after the board rejected a proposal last month to have students "learn the controversy." That proposed language required biology students construct scientific arguments that seem to support and seem to discredit Darwinism. Because neither party could agree, the state kept the language based on its 2005 standards.

Still, a panel was convened to further address the issue, and Tuesday's compromise requires students to understand that the theory of evolution may change as new scientific information is obtained - like any other scientific theory.

"This, albeit small, is a step towards more than encouragement in giving the teachers additional flexibility and they know what to do with that," said Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville. "That encourages students to get more involved in the issues."

Fair opposed the language of the science standards presented in February, taking issue with teaching natural selection as fact. He said he believed there are other theories students should learn, and he proposed the language that the board rejected in June.

Fair said he hopes the new language will encourage more critical thinking by stimulating more questions. He added he's pleased with the progress being made toward critical thinking.

EOC Executive Director Melanie Barton said the new language won't really change much in the classroom because evolution hasn't changed. She added it encourages teachers to stay up to date with new scientific discoveries and how they relate to the theory of evolution.

"They're going to teach evolution," Barton said. "What this compromise says, it's let's keep kids thinking even more."

College of Charleston Professor and President of South Carolinians for Science Education Rob Dillon said he didn't mind the language voted on Tuesday being applied to the overall topic of biology, physics and chemistry. His issue was with the language being applied solely to evolution.

But Dillon said he has faith in science teachers and hopes they will teach the entire course with an understanding of the scientific method without singling out evolution.

"He wins," said Dillon of Fair. "Evolution looks controversial. It's no more controversial than photosynthesis."

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.