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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools
of higher education often has a different set of expectations for placement of students in its system, making it doubly difficult for high schools to know just what preparing their students for college means (Kirst, 1998). This lack of understanding may leave some students with limited college options many years before they are ready to make such a choice.
What is clear, however, is a pervasive and enduring belief that AP or IB courses offer an advantage to students in the college admission process. This belief has led to ever-increasing numbers of students enrolling in multiple AP courses or seeking IB Diplomas (see Chapters 3 and 4, this volume). The popular media, college guidebooks, and even the colleges themselves promote the potential positive edge in admission gained from participation in these programs.
Advanced Study as a Link Between High School and College
Advanced study programs such as AP span the boundaries of secondary and higher education. The content and structure of advanced study programs and the learning experiences they offer to high school students can provide one of the foundations for academic success in higher education. Students and their parents look to these programs to facilitate students’ admission to college, to help them succeed in college-level work once admitted, and to yield college credit and the possibility of proceeding directly to more advanced courses when the students matriculate in college. High school teachers expect these programs to provide motivated and well-prepared students with opportunities to gain the prerequisite content knowledge and habits of mind that will make them successful in college.
In turn, colleges and universities want to enroll highly qualified students who have the background and motivation to succeed in college courses. They want students who are well prepared and well educated. Colleges and universities look to and rely on advanced study to prepare students for the rigors of higher education. High school advanced study courses in science and mathematics are particularly important in establishing a foundation on which to build further study in these disciplines. Students, parents, high school guidance counselors, and even some college faculty may view these introductory courses in science and mathematics as “gatekeepers.” Science and mathematics are among the most hierarchical subjects in higher education and typically require sequential courses of study extending over many years. If the advanced study programs that serve as introductions to these disciplines are not well constructed, subsequent learning is likely to be adversely affected.