programs were created well before the nature of human cognition and learning became the focus of intensive research or the potential for using this research to inform the design of educational programs was emphasized. Nonetheless, now that research is providing a clearer picture of how people learn, it is important to use this information to consider how to improve the programs’ courses, assessments, and professional development activities.

Systematic information is lacking about the AP and IB programs as they are actually implemented in U.S. high schools, including the instructional strategies used in individual classrooms, the structure of the syllabi in different schools, the quantity and quality of the facilities available, the preparation of teachers who teach the courses, and the ways in which students are prepared prior to advanced study.1 What is known, however, is that there is wide variation among teachers and schools. Yet data on the nature of this variation and its effect on student learning are scant, as is information about the cognitive processes elicited by the AP and IB assessments. Because important data about the programs have not yet been published by either the programs or independent researchers, the committee focused its analysis on what the programs say they do, using available program materials such as course guides, released examinations, teacher manuals, program goals and mission statements. and expert testimony from program officials and experienced AP and IB teachers.2

The discussion in this chapter is organized around the seven principles of learning set forth in Chapter 6 and is based on the evidence noted above, as well as the findings of the four panels that conducted in-depth appraisals of the AP and IB programs in mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics for this study.3 The analysis is focused on determining the extent to which the AP and IB curricula in science and mathematics and the associated instruction and assessments are aligned with the principles of learning and goals for advanced study outlined in previous chapters. This analysis (and that of Chapters 9 and 10) serves as the foundation for the recommendations offered in Chapter 11 for improving advanced study in general and the AP and IB programs in particular. In presenting these analyses, we emphasize that AP and IB are different programs designed for different purposes, and


The College Board is beginning to undertake some new research related to how the AP courses are implemented in schools. See (November 28, 2001). The IBO has also established a research committee to oversee studies on the nature of learning in IB classrooms. See (February 8, 2002).


The College Board and the IBO provided the committee with a considerable range of program materials, such as mission statements; course outlines; teacher guides; sample syllabi; released examinations; scoring rubrics; and research results from studies conducted under the auspices of their researchers, as well as by independent researchers.


A summary of the panels’ findings and recommendations is given in Appendix A; and the full panel reports are available online at

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