The state Board of Education on Wednesday rejected a state panel's proposal to change high school standards on evolution by calling on students to "critically analyze" the theory.

Science teachers had complained that although critical analysis is part of all science, the wording was really a backdoor attempt to force educators to teach religious-based alternatives. In a 10-6 vote, board members agreed.

The Education Oversight Committee, a school reform panel made up of lawmakers, teachers, parents and other community members, recommended the change last month.

Panel member Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, has said it was intended to introduce students to challenges to evolutionary theory.

Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, a Democrat, has called the effort "a ploy to confuse the issue of evolution so that ultimately evolution won't be taught."

Officials disagreed over the effect of the vote.

Education department officials say the vote leaves previous science standards adopted in 2002 in place. But Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum, said both the Education Oversight Committee and the Board of Education must agree on new standards.

Walker suggested state lawmakers might vote to change the evolution curriculum through legislation.

Around the country, attempts to introduce public school students to alternatives to evolution such as "intelligent design" have largely failed.

Intelligent design holds that life is so complex it must have had a creator, an idea supporters of evolutionary theory say is simply creationism stripped of religious references.

In December, a federal judge barred the school system in Dover, Pa., from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes. But critics of evolution got a boost in November when the Kansas Board of Education adopted standards that treat evolution as a flawed theory.