Appendix E
Conclusions and Recommendations from the 1990 NRC Report Fulfilling the Promise: Biology Education in the Nation’s Schools

  1. “We are concerned that the AP biology course has been modeled on introductory college biology courses that for many students are notoriously poor educational experiences. The time has come to stop designing curricula by the process of serial dilution, in which the high school course is a thin version of the college course, and the middle school course is a thin version of the high school course.” (p. 85)

  2. “... [s]erious problems, both philosophical and practical, attend the AP biology program” (p. 85). To paraphrase:

    • Covers too many aspects of biology in too short a time.

    • Requires “teaching to the examination.”

    • Diverts academically able students from other high school courses to a college-level focus.

  1. We are skeptical whether AP biology is commonly able to provide an exposure equivalent to that offered in most colleges” (p. 86).

  2. The report therefore made recommendations (pages 86-87):

    • A consensus needs to be reached as to what the AP biology course should be. The present policy of modeling the AP course after a composite view of college courses is missing opportunities for generating a unique high-school experience, providing a more realistic introduction to experimentation, and providing better college preparation. Although the recent inclusion of quantitative experimentation in the AP Program was needed and is commendable, an introductory college course may not be the soundest educational experience for students who have time for a second course in biology in high school. Whether the AP course will develop into a strong component of biology education or will itself become an obstacle to reform is unclear. A national body of educators, high school and college biology teachers, and scientists should make specific recommendations about the AP curriculum, examination, and college credit. (See also Chapter 8.) The College Board should be asked to study fully its own



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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 Appendix E Conclusions and Recommendations from the 1990 NRC Report Fulfilling the Promise: Biology Education in the Nation’s Schools “We are concerned that the AP biology course has been modeled on introductory college biology courses that for many students are notoriously poor educational experiences. The time has come to stop designing curricula by the process of serial dilution, in which the high school course is a thin version of the college course, and the middle school course is a thin version of the high school course.” (p. 85) “... [s]erious problems, both philosophical and practical, attend the AP biology program” (p. 85). To paraphrase: Covers too many aspects of biology in too short a time. Requires “teaching to the examination.” Diverts academically able students from other high school courses to a college-level focus. We are skeptical whether AP biology is commonly able to provide an exposure equivalent to that offered in most colleges” (p. 86). The report therefore made recommendations (pages 86-87): A consensus needs to be reached as to what the AP biology course should be. The present policy of modeling the AP course after a composite view of college courses is missing opportunities for generating a unique high-school experience, providing a more realistic introduction to experimentation, and providing better college preparation. Although the recent inclusion of quantitative experimentation in the AP Program was needed and is commendable, an introductory college course may not be the soundest educational experience for students who have time for a second course in biology in high school. Whether the AP course will develop into a strong component of biology education or will itself become an obstacle to reform is unclear. A national body of educators, high school and college biology teachers, and scientists should make specific recommendations about the AP curriculum, examination, and college credit. (See also Chapter 8.) The College Board should be asked to study fully its own

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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 record of success, follow up on the college placement of students, and assess compliance of high schools with its recommendations for prerequisites. Whatever their form, AP or other advanced biology courses should not be taken instead of chemistry, physics, or mathematics. Nor should they become the “honors” section, taken in lieu of the first high-school course in biology. The AP biology course should be taken as late in high-school as possible, preferably in the senior year, to enable the subject to be taught as an experimental science to students whose maturity is close to that of college freshmen. Even a properly designed AP course in biology is inappropriate for younger students and for those without maximal preparation in mathematics and the physical sciences. We suggest that the terminal-year AP biology course provide intensive treatment of a few topics in molecular biology, cell biology, physiology, evolution, and ecology. Emphasis should be on experimental design, experimentation and observation, data analysis, and critical reading. Thus, the course cannot be modeled after existing college courses, which broadly cover all biology. Engaging students in direct investigations of natural phenomena without attempting to “cover” the subject matter of the introductory college biology course is judged by this committee to be more educationally sound than the current program. A rigorous examination devoted to problem solving that requires the application of biological concepts should accompany such a revision. This course should be taught only by teachers both capable of providing a sophisticated and broad knowledge of biology and having the ability, training, experience, resources, and time to oversee an independent experimental approach. For example, a teacher who has not had first-hand experience in independent research should not be assigned to teach AP biology. Specific inservice training and certification should be used to ensure that only qualified teachers teach the AP course. The College Board should take initiatives to see that the program meets those more demanding specifications, but school administrators must understand and cooperate as well. If AP science courses are to be offered, there should be a line item in the school budget to support them, and they should not be given at the expense of regular science laboratory activities. The premise that AP courses provide college credit is not necessarily flawed; however, the nature of what the credit is for needs examination. A second course giving instruction in scientific reasoning, based on experimental design, and using sophisticated physical, chemical, and mathematical, as well as biological, principles would in fact provide better preparation for college than the present broad review. Colleges and high schools should both recognize the value of a second course in experimental science taken at the end of high school. Such a course need not be sponsored by the College Board or be designated “advanced placement.”

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326 .~ Thailand. Dr. [ungck served on the NRC Committee on Information Technol- ogy in Undergraduate Science Education. fames H. Wandersee is a graduate faculty member in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Louisiana State University, where he is the Wm. LeBlanc Alumni Association Professor of Biology Education. His re- search group, the 15 Laboratory, focuses on visual cognition, the graphic representation of biological knowledge, and visual approaches to learning biology. Trained as a botanist, Dr. Wandersee is especially interested in stu- dent and public understanding of plants, and he has served as a plant sci- ence lecturer at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. He also has coauthored books on mapping biology knowledge, bioinstrumentation, teaching sci- ence for understanding, and assessing science understanding. Dr. Wandersee is a AAAS Fellow in the biological sciences section, past secretary and trea- surer of the NABT, and past science program chair of the American Educa- tional Research Association. He served for 5 years as the associate editor of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching and 3 years as North American Editor of the International Journal of Science Education. He has been rec- ognized for his contributions to education in being named Louisiana State University's Educator of the Year and receiving LSU's first university-wide Excellence in Teaching Award. He has taught high school biology and other sciences in an urban setting for 10 years, college biology/botany for 10 years, and research-university, graduate-level, science education courses (mainly biology education courses) for 13 years. William B. Wood (committee liaison and chair) is professor of Molecu- lar, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado, Boul- der, where he formerly served as department chair. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of the NAS Molecular Biology Award. His current research focuses on the mechanisms by which cell fates and patterns are determined during embryonic development of the nematode C. elegans, using techniques of genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology. Dr. Wood was lead author of the widely used textbook Biochemists: A Problems Approach, which helped introduce problem-based learning to biochemistry; he subsequently spearheaded the development of a graduate core course in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology that served as a model for many departments around the country. He received his Ph.D. in biochem- istry from Stanford University.