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Introduction

The National Research Council’s (NRC) Committee on Programs for Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in American High Schools (parent committee) formed a biology panel to evaluate and compare the Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and alternative programs for advanced study in biology with regard to content, pedagogy, and outcomes. The panel held two meetings, in April and June 2000, for the purpose of formulating answers to the questions under its charge from the parent committee (see Appendix A). The panel was chaired by a member of the parent committee, who served as liaison to the committee and consolidated the panel’s findings and recommendations into this report. Panel members also included two master teachers with extensive experience in teaching high school biology, as well as four university professors—an educator with interests in biology, two biologists with primary interests in education, and a biologist with primary interests in university-level teaching and research.

The panel’s conclusions are based on published evidence and the personal expertise of the panel members, as well as discussions with three consultants: an additional IB teacher who has worked extensively with the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), an Educational Testing Service (ETS) consultant for the AP Biology Test Committee, and a Washington, D.C., area AP teacher. The panel drew on a variety of published sources, in particular on material from the College Board and the ETS (AP program); the IBO; and previous NRC reports, including Fulfilling the Promise: Biology Education in the Nation’s Schools (National Research Council, 1990); National Science Education Standards (referred to below as NSES) (National Research Council, 1996) and its recent addendum Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (INSES) (National Research Council, 2000a); and How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (HPL) (National Research Council, 1999) and its addendum How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice (HPL2) (National Research Council, 2000b). All panel members provided written contributions that were incorporated or excerpted in this report. The final report was reviewed and approved by the panel members, and all the conclusions presented herein represent the panel’s consensus opinions. Some of the arguments for these conclusions are based on anecdotal evidence and the experience of individual panel members, as well as published studies; we have tried to indicate clearly the nature of our sources as appropriate in the text.

As important as the panel’s specific responses to the questions under its charge is its consensus opinion that major systemic changes are overdue in biology teaching, not only in high



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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools - Report of the Content Panel for Biology 1 Introduction The National Research Council’s (NRC) Committee on Programs for Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in American High Schools (parent committee) formed a biology panel to evaluate and compare the Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and alternative programs for advanced study in biology with regard to content, pedagogy, and outcomes. The panel held two meetings, in April and June 2000, for the purpose of formulating answers to the questions under its charge from the parent committee (see Appendix A). The panel was chaired by a member of the parent committee, who served as liaison to the committee and consolidated the panel’s findings and recommendations into this report. Panel members also included two master teachers with extensive experience in teaching high school biology, as well as four university professors—an educator with interests in biology, two biologists with primary interests in education, and a biologist with primary interests in university-level teaching and research. The panel’s conclusions are based on published evidence and the personal expertise of the panel members, as well as discussions with three consultants: an additional IB teacher who has worked extensively with the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), an Educational Testing Service (ETS) consultant for the AP Biology Test Committee, and a Washington, D.C., area AP teacher. The panel drew on a variety of published sources, in particular on material from the College Board and the ETS (AP program); the IBO; and previous NRC reports, including Fulfilling the Promise: Biology Education in the Nation’s Schools (National Research Council, 1990); National Science Education Standards (referred to below as NSES) (National Research Council, 1996) and its recent addendum Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (INSES) (National Research Council, 2000a); and How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (HPL) (National Research Council, 1999) and its addendum How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice (HPL2) (National Research Council, 2000b). All panel members provided written contributions that were incorporated or excerpted in this report. The final report was reviewed and approved by the panel members, and all the conclusions presented herein represent the panel’s consensus opinions. Some of the arguments for these conclusions are based on anecdotal evidence and the experience of individual panel members, as well as published studies; we have tried to indicate clearly the nature of our sources as appropriate in the text. As important as the panel’s specific responses to the questions under its charge is its consensus opinion that major systemic changes are overdue in biology teaching, not only in high

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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools - Report of the Content Panel for Biology schools, but also in primary schools and colleges. The AP and IB courses, while including some of the best education in the subject currently available at the secondary level, tend in general to be out of date, too broad, and too inflexible in their curricula. Moreover, they often ignore the results of recent research on science learning, pedagogy, and assessment, and do not conform to the pedagogical standards of the NSES and INSES. The panel judges IB to be superior to AP in many respects, but making AP more like IB will not be enough; rather, systemic changes are required in the preparation of teachers and the teaching of biology at all levels. For example, the panel concurs with the view National Research Council, 1996, 2000b; U.S. Department of Education, 2000) that many of the current shortcomings of both primary and secondary school courses stem directly from the mode of instruction experienced by high school teachers as college students. College-level introductory courses are also a substantial part of the problem because their content has been driving the AP Biology curriculum in particular. Systemic change in the teaching of mathematics was recently initiated with support from the National Science Foundation. One result has been striking changes in AP Calculus instruction, demonstrating that the College Board can be responsive to reform efforts. A similar systemic initiative is under way in chemistry. The panel concludes that efforts to improve the AP and IB programs should be part of a broad initiative to reform biology teaching, as outlined in the NSES and the recent report of the Glenn Commission (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000). We are encouraged that the recent recommendations of the Commission on the Future of the Advanced Placement Program (AP Commission) (2001), discussed further below, appear likely to move the AP program in this direction. Chapter 2 of this report defines what constitutes advanced high school biology, briefly describes the AP and IB programs, and lists some characteristics the panel would recommend for an ideal advanced biology course at the secondary level. Chapters 3 through 5 present the panel’s responses to each of the questions under its charge (see Appendix A), under headings that correspond closely to the questions as posed. (Since many of the questions in the charge overlap, this format results in some inevitable redundancy.) The discussion focuses on the AP and IB programs because they are the most widespread and influential and are the programs for which most information is available, and because the panel had neither the time nor the resources necessary to address alternative programs in any depth. We evaluate the status of these two programs, compare them, and make recommendations for change. The first question in the panel’s charge was, “To what degree do the AP and IB programs incorporate current knowledge about cognition and learning in mathematics and science in their curricula, instructions, and assessments?” We deal separately with the three aspects of this question in Chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 6 presents a summary and discussion of the panel’s three primary and eleven secondary recommendations.

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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools - Report of the Content Panel for Biology 2 Advanced Study in Biology: Ideal and Reality An advanced high school biology course should reflect the current excitement in the field of biology, where the field is now, where it is going, and the increasing extent to which it impinges on our daily lives. An advanced course should be up to date and broad enough to give students an overall picture of the field, but should not attempt to be comprehensive, since doing so is impossible in a 1-year biology course at any level. Advanced study in biology should be demanding, not in the sense of covering all or even any particular areas of biology, but rather in requiring students to read and comprehend a college-level text and science articles at the level of, for example, Scientific American; solve problems; carry out meaningful experiments; collect, analyze, and interpret real data; write coherently about their conclusions; relate these conclusions to real-life situations and their other academic coursework; and take some responsibility for their own learning. Students should not just acquire biological knowledge, but rather experience the process of biological science, including generation of hypotheses from observations, design of experiments, encounters with unexpected results, collaborative learning and laboratory work with other students and teachers, and presentation of their analyses and conclusions for critical review by their peers. To meet these expectations, both students and teachers need to be adequately prepared. Students should have taken a prior biology course or at least a prior chemistry course, preferably both. Students, unless they are exceptional, should not take advanced biology as their first high school science course; most should be juniors or seniors so they will be mature and experienced enough to take advantage of the advanced work. Teachers should have at least a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree in a biological discipline, as well as the appropriate educational credentials. They should also have participated in at least one summer workshop of at least a week’s duration as specific preparation in both the pedagogy and the laboratory approaches for an advanced problem-oriented, student-centered biology course. The AP and IB Biology courses embody the above ideal to different extents, partly because the two programs were developed to serve quite different purposes (as discussed in greater detail in the full report of the parent committee). Here we provide merely a brief summary. The AP program was initiated in 1955 by the College Board to provide college-level courses for advanced students in high schools. A major goal of the program has been academic acceleration, providing these students with credits that can be used to place out of introductory