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

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