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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools
discipline’s content and unifying concepts. Well-designed programs help students develop skills of inquiry, analysis, and problem solving so that they become superior learners.
It is not enough for students to achieve familiarity with factual content alone; they need to understand the central ideas of the discipline in order to build a conceptual framework for further learning and apply what they have learned to new situations and to other disciplines. A consequence of this principle is that accelerating students’ exposure to college-level material, while appropriate as a component of some secondary advanced study programs, is not by itself a sufficient goal. Except for a small number of highly able students, courses that pursue acceleration as the sole objective may proceed too quickly for many students to develop deep conceptual understanding.
RECOMMENDATION 2:ACCESS AND EQUITY
Schools and school districts must find ways to integrate advanced study with the rest of their program by means of a coherent plan extending from middle school through the last years of secondary school. Course options in grades 6–10 for which there are reduced academic expectations (i.e., those that leave students unprepared for further study in a discipline) should be eliminated from the curriculum. An exception might be made for courses designed to meet the needs of special education students.
Many additional students could benefit from participation in advanced study given improved preparation in earlier years and wider program availability. As documented in Chapter 2, certain racial and ethnic groups (including African American and Hispanic students) are substantially underrepresented among matriculants in advanced courses and among AP test takers, though the causes for this are unclear. A coherent plan that extended across grade levels and schools within a district could enable a higher proportion of potentially qualified students to benefit from advanced study. By treating all students as potential participants while in grades 6–10, schools could help even those who do not eventually enroll in advanced study to emerge with strong foundations in mathematics and science.
The positive effects on student achievement of a high school curriculum that stresses high levels of academic learning for all students have been demonstrated empirically (Lee, 2001; Lee, Burkam, Chow-Hoy, Smerdon, and Geverdt, 1998; Lee, Croninger, and Smith, 1997). The committee therefore recommends that high schools eliminate low-level, “dead-end” math-