Louisiana's first new public school science standards in 20 years are set for final approval this week, but controversy over evolution and other issues is expected Tuesday when the state's top school board tackles the issue.

The rewritten benchmarks were recommended by a 39-member study group last month after a six-month review.

Backers hope the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will endorse the standards, first in committee Tuesday and then by the full board Wednesday.

The state has the third oldest standards in the nation, and students routinely rank low nationally in tests of science skills.

But how evolution is dealt with in some courses is sparking concern, and state officials expect public opposition to the changes when a BESE committee considers the issue starting around 1 p.m. Tuesday.

"We hope that they will adopt these standards," said Cathi Cox-Boniol, chairwoman of the study group and a veteran science educator in Lincoln Parish. "It is time for us to move forward. It is time for our students to have the opportunity to move forward."

Exactly what evolution language is in dispute is unclear.

However, the same topic sparked two days of discussion during the review process.

Cox-Boniol noted that what is at stake are standards, not curriculum, and local school districts have flexibility on exactly how science topics are taught.

State science standards for public schools were last changed in 1997.

Only Wisconsin and New Mexico rely on older benchmarks.

Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, said Monday he has a variety of concerns about the proposed guidelines.

In one case, Mills said, climate change and global warming are unfairly treated as foregone conclusions.

He said the changes would do to science what Common Core did to math and English.

"I think we are creating some unnecessary distractions when it comes to public education," Mills said.

Common Core revamped the way math, English and writing are taught in public schools.

BESE member Kathy Edmonston, who lives in Gonzales, said Monday she too has concerns based on her understanding of the recommendations.

"I believe there is only one side presented and that is evolution," Edmonston said.

She said she wants teachers to be able to offer other theories.

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"If there is one side there is no room for debate," Edmonston said. "But if you bring in all the theories we can teach our kids to critically debate."

The BESE member, who attended meetings of the study group, said she hopes the state can make it clear, possibly through regulation, that the new standards will ensure freewheeling discussions on evolution and other topics.

The 39-member panel, mostly educators, approved the recommendations on Feb. 13.

The lone "no" vote was cast by Wade Warren, a professor of biology at Louisiana College in Pineville.

Warren was recommended for membership on the Science Standards Review Committee by the Louisiana Family Forum.

He said at the time he voted "no" because the new guidelines left out too much scientific information.

Warren, who could not be reached for comment Monday, may be among those who testify at the BESE committee on Tuesday.

"I anticipate there will be some opposition," Cox-Boniol said.

Leaders of the review said last month that, under the new guidelines, students will be expected to study science topics in greater depth, with less reliance on memorization.

But evolution-related topics have sparked controversy for years.

In 2008 the state approved the Science Education Act, which supporters said would give classrooms the ability to hold freewheeling discussions on evolution, global warming and other topics.

Critics have tried since then to have the law repealed.

They say it paves the way for the teaching of creationism — the view that life began about 6,000 years ago as described in the Bible's Book of Genesis.

Repeated repeal efforts have died in the first step of the legislative process, and did so for the fifth consecutive time in 2015.

Mills said he is concerned the new standards would undercut that law.

Whatever the committee recommends will be reviewed by the full board on Wednesday.

That meeting starts at 9 a.m.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.