sufficient depth to develop deep conceptual understanding. This idea is consistent with national standards in mathematics and science for grades K– 12 (American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 1993; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 2000; National Research Council [NRC], 1996). While the written materials produced by the College Board and the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) acknowledge the importance of depth and focus, the daunting scope of the curriculum guides and the associated assessments in some subject areas sends a very different message. One notable exception is the revised AP calculus syllabus, which reflects an appropriate balance between breadth and depth.
AP course outlines (and assessments) are designed to mirror the content of typical college-level introductory courses (see Chapter 3, this volume). AP courses are intended to be an acceptable substitute for the introductory courses offered at more than 2,000 colleges and universities. Because AP courses cannot duplicate all of these college offerings, AP development committees try to make the courses maximally similar to as many of their college counterparts as possible. If one makes the commonsense assumption that college-level courses vary substantially in quality, such an approach will limit the development of high-quality AP courses. Average and excellent are incompatible. By focusing on average rather than exemplary programs, the development process results in an almost certain regression to the mean. A far better goal for the development of AP courses would be to design them in accordance with the principles articulated in this report. Further, suggested instructional strategies should reflect the range of best practices in both high school and college courses instead of emulating college courses across a range of quality and content. Throughout the development process, the goal of fostering learning with deep conceptual understanding must always be pursued.
AP course content is determined using data supplied by college and university department officials who respond to a survey distributed by the College Board. According to College Board officials, the response rate to these surveys is rather low—approximately 40 percent. Thus the responses of a small number of college and university departments may have an undue influence on what is taught in advanced courses across the nation. Designing AP courses to reflect a typical college course also means that until curricular changes become common in introductory college courses, these changes will not be included in AP. On the other hand, because IB courses are developed differently (see Chapter 4, this volume), they can be more responsive than AP courses to changes in the disciplines.