INFLUENCE OF CURRICULA AND ASSESSMENTS ON TEACHING APPROACHES

As noted earlier, the perceived need for comprehensiveness and the single high-stakes exam of the AP program in particular encourage teachers to promote rote learning in order to cover all the necessary material. Both curricula, but that of AP in particular, are burdened by the perceived need to cover many areas of biology and enable students to achieve high scores on an exam that assesses their breadth of knowledge. Consequently, both curricula emphasize memorization of facts and promote strategizing for the exam and even repeated rehearsals of test taking, often at the expense of gaining a meaningful understanding and appreciation of biology. The panel learned anecdotally that students’ specific results on both the AP and IB examinations are not made available to teachers for feedback on the effectiveness of their teaching. However, IB teachers do have access to analyses of student responses by section and question for each participating examination group. Such information can be valuable to teachers by allowing them to assess the effectiveness of their teaching within specific areas of the curriculum. To move in a more constructive direction, we reiterate our recommendations that:

  • The exams should include more data analysis and problem-solving questions that emphasize understanding of concepts rather than factual knowledge of specific topics. More free-response questions would also be desirable, although we realize that such questions add substantially to the cost of administering the exams. It appears inevitable that to some extent, the exams will always drive instruction in the courses; if the exams can be changed, it will be easier for the courses to evolve in constructive directions. Individual students’ exam answers should be made available to their teachers.

  • Assessments other than the final summative exam—for example, review of laboratory portfolios—should be carried out in evaluating the performance of AP students.

  • Performance on AP and IB exams should no longer be used by colleges to allow automatic placement out of specific introductory courses, so that curricula of college introductory courses will no longer drive the content of the AP and IB courses and exams. The rationale for this recommendation is developed further in Chapter 6.

CHANGING EMPHASES IN ASSESSMENT: ARE THE NSES RECOMMENDATIONS BEING FOLLOWED?

The recommendations in the NSES with regard to assessment are not being followed to a sufficient extent. For example, both AP and IB exams emphasize assessment of what is easily measured: rote learning of facts and concepts rather than what is most highly valued— hierarchically structured conceptual knowledge and understanding of scientific processes.

Table 4-1 summarizes the NSES recommendations for changing the standards for assessment (National Research Council, 1996). It is clear from the previous discussion that many of these standards are not being followed most of the time. The panel’s recommendations above and in Chapter 6 are intended to help move the AP and IB assessments in these directions.



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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 INFLUENCE OF CURRICULA AND ASSESSMENTS ON TEACHING APPROACHES As noted earlier, the perceived need for comprehensiveness and the single high-stakes exam of the AP program in particular encourage teachers to promote rote learning in order to cover all the necessary material. Both curricula, but that of AP in particular, are burdened by the perceived need to cover many areas of biology and enable students to achieve high scores on an exam that assesses their breadth of knowledge. Consequently, both curricula emphasize memorization of facts and promote strategizing for the exam and even repeated rehearsals of test taking, often at the expense of gaining a meaningful understanding and appreciation of biology. The panel learned anecdotally that students’ specific results on both the AP and IB examinations are not made available to teachers for feedback on the effectiveness of their teaching. However, IB teachers do have access to analyses of student responses by section and question for each participating examination group. Such information can be valuable to teachers by allowing them to assess the effectiveness of their teaching within specific areas of the curriculum. To move in a more constructive direction, we reiterate our recommendations that: The exams should include more data analysis and problem-solving questions that emphasize understanding of concepts rather than factual knowledge of specific topics. More free-response questions would also be desirable, although we realize that such questions add substantially to the cost of administering the exams. It appears inevitable that to some extent, the exams will always drive instruction in the courses; if the exams can be changed, it will be easier for the courses to evolve in constructive directions. Individual students’ exam answers should be made available to their teachers. Assessments other than the final summative exam—for example, review of laboratory portfolios—should be carried out in evaluating the performance of AP students. Performance on AP and IB exams should no longer be used by colleges to allow automatic placement out of specific introductory courses, so that curricula of college introductory courses will no longer drive the content of the AP and IB courses and exams. The rationale for this recommendation is developed further in Chapter 6. CHANGING EMPHASES IN ASSESSMENT: ARE THE NSES RECOMMENDATIONS BEING FOLLOWED? The recommendations in the NSES with regard to assessment are not being followed to a sufficient extent. For example, both AP and IB exams emphasize assessment of what is easily measured: rote learning of facts and concepts rather than what is most highly valued— hierarchically structured conceptual knowledge and understanding of scientific processes. Table 4-1 summarizes the NSES recommendations for changing the standards for assessment (National Research Council, 1996). It is clear from the previous discussion that many of these standards are not being followed most of the time. The panel’s recommendations above and in Chapter 6 are intended to help move the AP and IB assessments in these directions.

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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 TABLE 4-1 NSES Recommendations for Changing Standards for Assessment Less emphasis on: More emphasis on: Assessing what is easily measured Assessing what is most highly valued Assessing discrete knowledge Assessing rich, well-structured knowledge Assessing scientific knowledge Assessing scientific understanding and reasoning Assessing to learn what students do not know Assessing to learn what students do understand Assessing only achievement Assessing achievement and opportunity to learn End-of-term assessments by teachers Students’ ongoing assessments of their own work and that of others Development of external assessments by measurement experts alone Teachers involved in the development of external assessments ALTERNATIVE COURSES AND PROGRAMS As noted earlier, the panel had neither sufficient time nor adequate resources to allow in-depth analysis of alternative programs in advanced biology beyond those of AP and IB. Among the exemplary programs that may be leading the way in advanced secondary-level science education are those at the Austin Academy of Mathematics and Science, the Bronx High School of Science, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and the Virginia Governor’s School. Forward-looking characteristics of these schools include flexibility and fluidity in the classroom environment. There is also less focus on the teacher as the source of information and more on students working independently or in collaborative groups, guided by extensive use of contracts for specified projects. Projects often involve generating new knowledge and solving real problems related to the local or regional environment. In general, there is more emphasis on teaching the tools and methods of learning and less on specific content. COORDINATION BETWEEN HIGH SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES University-sponsored outreach programs can be a major resource for high school advanced biology programs and should be encouraged. More communication between high schools and universities—in both directions—would be helpful in fulfilling the needs of both institutions and in developing curricula and assessments.

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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 An increasing number of universities are sponsoring outreach programs for local and regional K–12 educators. Several such programs are supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and by the National Science Foundation. These programs can provide important regional foci for teacher development in connection with advanced high school courses in biology. They typically offer workshops for teachers; provide laboratory materials for use in the schools; and involve faculty, graduate students, and sometimes undergraduates who work in the classrooms with a regular teacher to provide enrichment science instruction. One example, described earlier, is the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers. Another is the outreach program of the Department of Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Washington, Seattle. Students participating in this program sequenced small segments of the human genome and submitted them to the central databases of the Human Genome Project. Another excellent outreach program in the Seattle area is sponsored by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis provides a summer teachers’ workshop on DNA laboratories, followed by a continuing program of support. When ready to use one of the laboratories, a participating teacher contacts the outreach office and is loaned a kit that includes all the reagents and equipment needed. Graduate students from the Hughes-supported “Science Squad” from the department of MCD Biology at University of Colorado, Boulder, assist teachers in the Denver area with specialized laboratories and classes using resources supplied by the program. A “teaching to learn, learning to teach” program at U.C. Davis gives undergraduate biology majors academic credit for assisting local teachers and has inspired many participants to adopt K–12 teaching as a career goal. The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium at Beloit College provides teacher workshops and curricular materials emphasizing the use of computers in laboratory simulations, quantitative data analysis, problem posing, and problem solving. In general, these programs provide an important link between university and high school biology instructors. The panel believes further liaison activities and exchanges of information in both directions, as already practiced in some programs, would benefit both constituencies, particularly in university communities. There are a number of other ways in which universities can support advanced biology teachers or their schools. Examples are as follows: In schools where qualified teachers or resources are not available, teaching of AP courses by local university faculty using university facilities. Furnishing of ideas and materials for laboratory exercises by university faculty to local teachers (or not so local, via the Internet). Guest discussions or lectures by university faculty, known to be effective with high school students, who can serve as role models with research experience. Research opportunities for advanced students and teachers who want to get a taste of laboratory investigation. Surplus laboratory equipment and supplies. Research results (e.g., in the form of video-recorded observations or datasets) for discussion and analysis in AP classes. Online access to university library materials.

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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 Additional ways in which university faculty can benefit science teaching in high schools are discussed in the NRC report entitled The Role of Scientists in the Professional Development of Science Teachers (National Research Council, 1996b). At the same time, advanced biology teachers and their schools have much to offer universities. Examples include the following: Teaching experience for research associates, graduate students, and undergraduates who may be considering teaching as a career or just enjoy it (or both). Talented students and teachers interested in research apprenticeships during the summer or the academic year. Discussion of effective teaching practices. The Hughes Program has released a video showing how university faculty can learn from master teachers at the secondary level. There are also a number of useful joint activities for university faculty and teachers of advanced biology: Discussions and cooperative development of curricula. Most university faculty who teach introductory courses in biology are unfamiliar with the advanced biology taught in high schools. Discussions and cooperative development of laboratory experiences. A university researcher may have an experimental organism or problem that a creative high school teacher can see how to exploit as a learning tool. Discussion and cooperative development of outreach activities and grant applications for their support. Joint teaching of an AP course by a secondary teacher and a university faculty member. Regular joint social activities, perhaps in the form of a “biology learning club,” at which university and high school biology faculty could get to know one another and discuss common interests and concerns. In most university communities, there is little contact between the two groups. Finally, as emphasized elsewhere in this report, there is a need for systemic reform of biology teaching, not just at the secondary level but throughout the education system, to conform to recent knowledge about how people learn and to the NSES. Many college introductory courses suffer from the same shortcomings as those identified in this report for high school advanced study courses, such as too much emphasis on comprehensive coverage and rote memorization of facts, and too little active, inquiry-based, or problem-based learning. Colleges and universities should revise or improve introductory biology courses as necessary to bring them into line with the recommendations made in this report for high school advanced study courses. Rectifying the current situation is important for two reasons. First, college-level introductory courses contribute to problems with AP courses in particular because the content of those courses has been driving the AP Biology curriculum. Second, inadequacies of many primary as well as secondary school courses may stem directly from the mode of instruction experienced by teachers as college students.

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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 5 Outcomes USE OF AP AND IB COURSES FOR ADVANCED PLACEMENT There are many concerns with the use of AP and IB scores for granting of advanced placement. Some top-ranked colleges do not accept either AP or IB credit or both. For a variety of reasons discussed above, some AP and IB Biology courses are not of high enough quality to be appropriate for college credit. And the AP Biology course as presently constituted is too EPO-oriented to be an appropriate substitute for a first-year college MCD-oriented biology course. Colleges and universities use performance in AP and IB Biology, primarily as measured by test scores, in a wide variety of ways (see the discussion of results from the parent committee’s survey of deans of admission in Chapter 2 of the committee’s full report). In some states, state law mandates certain amounts of college credit for students who pass the AP test with specified scores. At the other extreme, some universities offer neither credit nor advanced placement for achievement in AP or IB programs, believing that their own introductory courses are essential for later success in the biology major (see the discussion in the next section). Between these extremes, some offer credit toward graduation but no advanced placement, while others offer advanced placement but no credit toward graduation. These discrepancies in the ways AP and IB scores are used is one of the panel’s reasons for believing that the use of the programs for automatic advanced placement could be eliminated without affecting the programs’ other existing and potential benefits (see Chapter 6). PREPARATION FOR ADVANCED COLLEGE COURSE WORK Because of the lack of in-depth study in many AP courses, students who place out of first-year college courses may be at a disadvantage later at institutions where the introductory course is effectively taught. The available data on how well the AP courses prepare students for advanced work in the field may be misleading. The panel concluded that allowing students to place out of introductory biology courses automatically on the basis of AP and IB test scores is a poor idea. The rationale for advanced placement rests on three assumptions: (1) that most AP and IB Biology courses are highly similar, (2) that most college and university introductory courses are highly similar, and (3) that

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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 most AP and IB courses are equivalent to college-level introductory courses. All three assumptions are invalid. Regarding the uniformity of AP and IB courses, evidence discussed above and self-reported data from AP examinees suggest that significant numbers of AP students do not perform laboratory exercises.5 Different school systems differ widely in their abilities to provide teacher preparation and in-service training for AP teachers, in the quality of their laboratory facilities, in their equipment and supply budgets, and in their scheduling and allocation of time to AP courses. Neither teacher qualifications nor school resources and facilities are certified by the AP program; the result is an extreme lack of uniformity in the quality of AP courses. IB courses are more likely to be uniform in quality, for reasons discussed previously. Regarding the uniformity of college-level introductory courses, there is a growing trend at colleges and universities to create integrated biology programs for majors in which no course is designated as “the introductory course.” At the many universities that still offer broader designated beginning courses, there are now often two different tracks or majors in biology—one MCD-oriented and one EPO-oriented—with appropriately different introductory courses. At many universities, therefore, allowing biology majors to bypass a required course on the basis of AP and IB examinations, which test for broad superficial knowledge of all areas of biology, is inappropriate. With regard to nonmajors, those at some universities can be exempted from a biology distribution requirement on the basis of a high AP or IB test score. The panel believes it is similarly unwise to allow students to fulfill entire distribution areas in a college education using AP or IB placement credits (see Chapter 6). Regarding the equivalence of high school and college instruction, there is no doubt that the best AP and IB courses are superior to many introductory college courses. Given the variation mentioned above among AP courses in particular, however, it appears clear that an assumption of equivalence between all AP and IB courses and college-level introductory courses cannot be valid. Evidence sometimes cited to support equivalence was presented in an ETS research study by Morgan and Ramist (1998). The results of this study indicated that, at a limited sample of colleges and universities, AP students with test scores of 3, 4, or 5 who bypassed their introductory college biology course performed as well (or better) in advanced college biology courses as students who had taken the introductory course. While the panel does not doubt these findings, we note that this study did not control for student quality. An alternative interpretation of the findings could be that AP courses attract the brightest and most highly motivated students, who do better in advanced courses simply because they are superior learners. This effect would be amplified at institutions where the majority of superior incoming students are granted advanced placement, thereby depleting the introductory courses of such students. Therefore, the panel believes this study neither validates nor invalidates the claim that AP courses are equivalent to first-year college introductory courses. To our knowledge, no comparable studies have been carried out on students granted advanced placement based on an 5   In an ETS questionnaire administered with the 1999 AP Biology exam, 8,708/78,745 students reported spending no time doing laboratory work for AP Biology class. These data are limited in value, however, as they were self-reported and were not verified, nor were students able to receive clarification of questions they did not understand.

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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 IB course in high school. Clearly, more and better research is needed on this important point. The panel therefore makes the following recommendations: Biology majors should not, in general, be allowed to use AP or IB Biology test scores as the sole basis for automatic placement out of an introductory college-level course or any other specific required course. Nonmajors should not be allowed to bypass a subject area distribution requirement on the basis of AP or IB test scores alone. AP and IB test scores should be used only to grant elective credit toward a college degree. The rationale for these recommendations is further elaborated in Chapter 6. TURNING STUDENTS ON TO BIOLOGY Greater emphasis on inquiry-based learning in AP and IB courses would motivate more students to pursue further training in biology and biology-related careers in research, teaching, or biotechnology. Although a skilled teacher can teach within the AP framework and still involve students in a way that excites them, the emphasis on passing the exam and the resulting shallowness of the curriculum encourage rote learning that is unlikely to turn students on to biology. The IB program, with more emphasis on in-depth study and inquiry-based laboratory work, appears to do a better job in this regard. Motivation in the AP course is primarily extrinsic, resulting from the desire to excel and the pressure of the high-stakes examination, while motivation in the IB course appears more likely to be intrinsic, resulting from intellectual involvement with the material. Many of the recommendations made above—for better teacher preparation, more emphasis on inquiry-based laboratories and big ideas, and less comprehensiveness and rote learning of specific facts—would promote more intrinsic motivation and consequently more excitement about the study of biology in the AP course.

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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 6 Summary and Discussion of Recommendations PRIMARY RECOMMENDATIONS This section presents the three recommendations the panel considers most important, along with a summary discussion of each. Recommendation 1 The College Board should certify schools and teachers that wish to present AP Biology courses and should provide suitable training opportunities for prospective AP Biology teachers. The College Board should also develop procedures, such as those used by the IBO in the IB program, for ongoing assessment of AP programs and teachers through regular sampling of student work; such sampling should also be used for assessment of student achievement in addition to the final examinations. The panel realizes that implementation of such a system is a daunting undertaking. Whereas the IBO presently oversees about 350 programs in the United States, the College Board must deal with about 7,000 programs, and this number is growing. Nevertheless, we believe strongly that a more organized system of preservice training and certification will be necessary to achieve greater uniformity in the quality of AP Biology instruction. Certification and assessments of both the AP and IB programs by the College Board and the IBO, respectively, should be designed to ensure that changing emphases in standards for teaching, professional development, assessment, and content, as set forth in the NSES, are being implemented. Teacher preparation and in-service workshops in both programs should place more emphasis on pedagogy—how to facilitate student-centered, problem-oriented, inquiry-based learning—and on recent results of research on cognition and learning. Justification for this recommendation is presented throughout the report. It should be noted that implementation of this recommendation is not dependent on greatly increased resources for less wealthy schools. Inquiry-based learning does not require access to expensive equipment or elaborate methods. Inquiry-based laboratories can be conducted on a low budget, as many excellent AP teachers have demonstrated.

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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 Colleges and universities should be strongly discouraged from using performance on either the AP or IB examination as the sole basis for automatic placement out of required introductory college courses for biology majors and distribution requirements for nonmajors. Several arguments for this recommendation have been presented earlier in this report. This recommendation may at first appear to run counter to the major purpose of the AP program, as well as to its name. On the contrary, however, as discussed below, its implementation would have many desirable consequences and few disadvantages for both programs. Distinguishing Automatic Advanced Placement from College Credit The term “advanced placement” is often taken to mean the following: for majors in biological sciences, exempting students from specific courses normally required for the major, and for nonmajors, exempting students from general distribution requirements in the life sciences. The term can also denote the granting of either elective credit or general unit credit, which advances the student toward graduation on the basis of college-level work done in high school. The panel is recommending only discontinuation of automatic advanced placement in the first sense, that is, the practice of exempting students from a required course on the basis of AP or IB exam scores alone. We do not discourage granting such advanced placement on a case-by-case basis (i.e., nonautomatically) if the decision to do so is made responsibly by the relevant college department. This means that a college or university department should determine according to its own criteria that there is a good fit between the student’s high school course and the required course in question in terms of both level and subject matter, and that granting credit is in the best interest of the individual student. Such criteria are already used for granting transfer credit between colleges; they should be applied to advanced placement decisions as well. Many college departments already use such criteria to grant or refuse advanced placement to incoming first-year students. The panel reiterates that its recommendation applies only to those that offer advanced placement automatically. A few states have passed legislation that mandates automatic advanced placement based on exam scores alone in all public colleges. Such legislation works against the best interests of students and should be strenuously opposed. Benefits of Implementing This Recommendation Several undesirable aspects of the AP and IB programs discussed in this report tend to be maintained by a complex set of historical precedents; vested interests; and interdependencies among schools, school boards, state governments, teachers, parents, students, universities, ETS and the College Board, and the IBO. Implementing this recommendation would cut this Gordian knot, freeing both programs to evolve in desirable directions and greatly facilitating the implementation of other changes recommended by the panel. It would sever the current link