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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools
teachers generally feel freer to follow their own interests and pursue topics within the broad course outline in which their content knowledge is most secure. In AP courses in which teachers focus on preparing their students for success on an AP examination, there is internal accountability if students take the external examination (Herr, 1993), although little can be said about accountability if large numbers of students in the course do not take the test. Differences among schools also influence how a course is implemented. Scheduling and length of class periods, available facilities and resources, and existing state standards and assessments for courses preceding the AP course all help shape a course differently in each locality.
AP Course Descriptions and Teacher’s Guides
AP program materials address instruction only in a very general way. For example, a letter to teachers from Gasper Caperton, President of the College Board, is included as a preface to the May 2002–May 2003 course descriptions for AP biology, calculus, chemistry, and physics. He states, “This AP Course Description provides an outline of content and description of course goals, while still allowing teachers the flexibility to develop their own lesson plans and syllabi, and to bring their individual creativity to the AP classroom.” Consistent with this message, for example, the May 2002–May 2003 AP physics course description features a message from the development committee encouraging the following broad instructional goals (CEEB, 2001d):
Basic knowledge of the discipline of physics, including phenomenology, theories and techniques, and generalizing principles.
Ability to ask physical questions and to obtain solutions to physical questions by use of qualitative and quantitative reasoning and by experimental investigation.
Fostering of important student attributes including appreciation of the physical world and the discipline of physics, curiosity, creativity and reasoned skepticism.
Understanding connections of physics to other disciplines and to societal issues. (p. 3)
The course descriptions in the other subjects also provide statements of goals and emphases that suggest a focus for instruction, such as the value of active learning, but do not address strategies or specific models for instruction in any detail.
Instructional strategies that might be employed effectively in achieving the instructional goals specified for AP courses may be among the teaching