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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools - Report of the Content Panel for Biology between the AP (and to a lesser extent the IB) examination and the content of first-year college courses in biology (as perceived by the respondents to the flawed AP survey; see Chapter 3), which provides an inappropriate standard on which to base the biology taught in high schools. This in turn would free the AP exam in particular, but also the IB exam, to evolve into better instruments for assessing the understanding of important concepts and the process of science, reasoning power, and analytical ability, with less emphasis on knowledge of specific biological facts. Such decoupling could also allow decreased emphasis on the exam itself, with incorporation of more formative assessments performed during the course into the judgment of student performance. These changes would have the effect of freeing the AP curriculum in particular, but also the IB curriculum, from the current preoccupation with comprehensiveness, allowing more in-depth, inquiry-based exploration of selected topics depending on the interests and skills of individual teachers and the local and regional environments of particular schools. Disadvantages of Maintaining the Status Quo Several arguments can be made against the current practice of granting automatic advanced college placement on the basis of AP and to a lesser extent IB examination scores alone. These arguments, reiterated from above, include the following: The lack of depth in many AP courses leads to superficial knowledge rather than real understanding of biology, which may handicap students in subsequent biology courses. Colleges and universities differ widely in the nature and emphases of their introductory courses. The assumption that the AP program can provide universal preparation for any college-level introductory course is unrealistic. Since the AP program does not certify teachers or schools, an AP course may be taught by an inexperienced instructor without either a degree or sufficient disciplinary knowledge in biology, and with inadequate facilities and resources for laboratory work. Advanced placement or even college credit based on such courses is not appropriate. Use of AP and IB test scores to excuse nonbiology majors from all subject area distribution requirements is based on the invalid assumption that AP and IB courses are generally equivalent to college-level courses. In addition, this use of AP scores undermines the concept of requiring breadth in a university-level education. Lack of Negative Effect on Current and Potential Benefits of the AP and IB Programs If this recommendation were implemented, none of the major benefits of the AP and IB programs to their various constituents would be lost: For universities, superior performance in AP or IB courses would remain a good predictor of success in college-level work.
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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools - Report of the Content Panel for Biology For schools, AP and IB courses would still represent high-profile enrichment programs that increase a school’s prestige and attract better students, better teachers, and possibly additional state support. For teachers, AP and IB courses would still attract the best students and extra resources, and would present superior opportunities for professional advancement, including higher pay and earlier promotion as elite teachers. For parents, AP and IB courses would continue to provide challenging academic work with the best teachers for their children, enhanced credentials for college admission and scholarship support, and college credit that could be used to shorten time to degree and hence decrease tuition costs. For students, AP and IB courses would continue to provide challenging academic work with the best teachers, experience with and preparation for college-level work (assuming a qualified teacher), and enhanced credentials for college admission. And if the panel is correct, the average quality of these courses as learning experiences should become considerably better. For the College Board and the IBO, we surmise that since AP and IB courses and examinations would continue to benefit all of the constituents listed above, both programs would be likely to continue their growth and popularity. In short, there would be no significant decrease in the value of AP and IB Biology courses if this recommendation were implemented, and in fact the value might increase if the panel’s predicted improvement in the present courses were to take place. Prospects for Implementing This Recommendation No organization or agency is in a position to mandate such a recommendation; universities are free to use the results of AP and IB examinations in any way they like within the constraints of state laws. However, given the enormous popularity of the AP program among its many constituencies and the increasing number of IB programs, the College Board and the IBO should have considerable leverage that could be used to promote meaningful change in high school biology education. Therefore, the panel strongly urges that: The College Board and the IBO discourage the use of examination scores alone for granting of automatic advanced placement out of required introductory college biology courses for science majors. The College Board and the IBO make clear that their assessments are designed to measure not eligibility for exemption from a specific biology course, but rather ability to succeed at college-level coursework and laboratory work in biology. Advanced placement in the form of elective credit toward a college degree is therefore appropriate, while placement out of an introductory required course for science majors is not.
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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools - Report of the Content Panel for Biology SECONDARY RECOMMENDATIONS Recommendations 4 through 14, which address specific concerns with the AP and IB programs, are reiterated below from preceding chapters in the order of their appearance. To avoid further redundancy, the chapter in which each is discussed is indicated in parentheses. Students should in general not be allowed to take AP Biology as a first science course in high school. A prior biology course should be a prerequisite for AP Biology, and a prior chemistry course should be strongly urged as well. In schools where the latter is impractical, chemistry should be a corequisite course. (Chapters 2 and 3) Both the AP and IB curricula should be updated to include topics of major current interest in biology, such as cell signaling, development, genomics, molecular systematics, and their evolutionary implications. (Chapter 3) The AP curriculum should be better balanced, with more emphasis on molecular and cell biology. The IB core topics should include more evolutionary biology. (Chapter 3) The College Board should seriously consider offering two different AP Biology courses, one emphasizing molecular, cellular, and developmental (MCD) and the other environmental, population, and organismic (EPO) biology, with two corresponding exams. These courses should go into depth in one of these areas of emphasis and present the basics of the other. Both courses should include a strong emphasis on evolution. (Chapter 3) More curricular flexibility should be built into the AP program so that students can study fewer areas in greater depth than is possible with the current overemphasis on breadth of coverage. (Chapter 3) The AP program should place more emphasis on laboratory work by developing a new and larger set of innovative, inquiry-based laboratories that conform to the NSES and by including more laboratory-based questions on the exam. Enough laboratories should be available so that teachers have the opportunity to select among them according to their interests and those of their students, and the laboratory-related questions on the AP exam should be general enough so that teachers have real flexibility in deciding which laboratories to offer. In addition, the AP program should include a mandatory 1-week workshop on laboratory pedagogy for beginning teachers of AP Biology and should provide more ongoing laboratory training for established teachers. (Chapters 3 and 4) Assessments of schools and teachers (see recommendation 1 above) should include determination of the amount and quality of laboratory experience being provided. Scheduling of at least one 2-hour laboratory period per week should be strongly urged as a criterion for certification of an AP Biology course. (Chapter 3) The AP program should promote more interdisciplinary activities that relate AP Biology to other academic work, as well as local and regional issues. (Chapter 3)
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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools - Report of the Content Panel for Biology The AP program should modify its assessment process to include evaluation of laboratory portfolios and other samples of student work prior to the examination. There should also be more questions on the exam designed to test understanding of major concepts and the process of laboratory research, with less emphasis on rote memorization of facts. (Chapters 3 and 4) To provide feedback, the AP program should make individual students’ exam answers available to their teachers after the exams have been evaluated. (Chapter 4) More attention should be paid to the interface between advanced high school and college biology teaching. In particular, more communication and collaboration should be encouraged between college and university departments and high school teachers of biology. Colleges and universities are potential sources of enrichment and resources for high school courses, and college instructors can benefit from the teaching experience of high school teachers. The need for reform is systemic. Like the AP and IB programs, colleges and universities should revise or improve introductory biology courses as necessary to bring them into line with the recommendations made in this report for high school advanced study courses. (Chapter 4) POSSIBLE IMPACT OF THE PANEL’S RECOMMENDATIONS Most of the panel’s suggestions for improving the teaching of advanced biology in high schools are not new ideas. Why should these recommendations have more impact than similar suggestions made earlier? The panel believes several new factors substantially increase the chances for significant reform of biology teaching in the coming years. Almost a century ago, in 1910, a committee report of the Central Association of Science and Mathematics Teachers made the following suggestions for improving biology courses (cited in Hurd, 1961, pp. 25–26): More emphasis on “reasoning out” rather than memorization. More attention to developing a “problem-solving attitude” and a “problem-raising attitude” on the part of students. More applications of the subject to the everyday life of the pupil and the community…. More emphasis on the incompleteness of the subject and glimpses into the great questions yet to be solved by investigators. Less coverage of the territory; the course should progress no faster than pupils can go with understanding. Likewise, a decade ago, an NRC report entitled Fulfilling the Promise: Biology Education in the Nation’s Schools addressed biology teaching and the AP program in particular (National Research Council, 1990). This report identified many of the shortcomings noted in the present report and made many of the same recommendations presented herein—most of which have not been implemented in the interim (see Appendix E).
Representative terms from entire chapter: