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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools
The availability of both government and private funds has begun to catalyze fundamental changes in the ways science and mathematics are taught at the undergraduate level, especially in introductory courses (see, for example, NRC, 1999d; Rothman and Narum, 1999). Cutting-edge concepts and skills from the disciplines are being integrated into introductory classes and laboratories. Information technologies increasingly are being woven into the fabric of teaching and learning for large numbers of undergraduates. However, this teaching and learning revolution has yet to reach many campuses, and advanced high school courses in the sciences continue to be modeled on traditional approaches. This tendency is reinforced in AP science courses by the College Board’s practice of basing its course outlines on surveys of institutions that accept large numbers of AP students. This practice can reinforce the status quo for AP courses instead of encouraging change to reflect emerging best practices in the disciplines involved.25
The Role of Advanced Study in College Admission Decisions
How Admission Decisions Are Made. Although much is known about how colleges make admission decisions, there is clearly a limit to what can be known about actual practices across institutions. The committee recognizes that many different individuals ultimately make these decisions, and that the decisions they make are based on particular circumstances and available information of varying quality. Thus, the discussion below can explore only in part the full range of processes and practices involved.
The primary role of admission officers at all colleges and universities is to assemble a class from among the qualified applicants. In some states, legislative mandates determine who must be admitted to public colleges and universities. For example, the Top 10 Percent Law (officially House Bill 588) guarantees that Texas high school graduates who rank in the top 10 percent of their senior class will be admitted to any state institution of higher learning. At other postsecondary institutions, both public and private, admission decisions are made primarily on the basis of numerical formulas that include a student’s high school grade-point average (GPA), class rank, completion of specified numbers of courses, and performance on the ACT (American College Testing Program) or SAT I and sometimes one or more SAT II subject tests. Some of these institutions also consider information on applicants’
An exception to this trend is in AP calculus, which is based on emerging research about teaching and learning in that subject. This difference between calculus and the science subjects that were investigated by the committee is considered in greater detail in Chapter 10 and in the panel reports prepared for this study (a summary of these reports is provided in Appendix A; the full reports can be found at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10129.html).