1. The AP program should modify its assessment process to include evaluation of laboratory portfolios and other samples of student work prior to the examination. There should also be more questions on the exam designed to test understanding of major concepts and the process of laboratory research, with less emphasis on rote memorization of facts. (Chapters 3 and 4)

  2. To provide feedback, the AP program should make individual students’ exam answers available to their teachers after the exams have been evaluated. (Chapter 4)

  3. More attention should be paid to the interface between advanced high school and college biology teaching. In particular, more communication and collaboration should be encouraged between college and university departments and high school teachers of biology. Colleges and universities are potential sources of enrichment and resources for high school courses, and college instructors can benefit from the teaching experience of high school teachers. The need for reform is systemic. Like the AP and IB programs, 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. (Chapter 4)


Most of the panel’s suggestions for improving the teaching of advanced biology in high schools are not new ideas. Why should these recommendations have more impact than similar suggestions made earlier? The panel believes several new factors substantially increase the chances for significant reform of biology teaching in the coming years.

Almost a century ago, in 1910, a committee report of the Central Association of Science and Mathematics Teachers made the following suggestions for improving biology courses (cited in Hurd, 1961, pp. 25–26):

  1. More emphasis on “reasoning out” rather than memorization.

  2. More attention to developing a “problem-solving attitude” and a “problem-raising attitude” on the part of students.

  3. More applications of the subject to the everyday life of the pupil and the community….

  4. More emphasis on the incompleteness of the subject and glimpses into the great questions yet to be solved by investigators.

  5. Less coverage of the territory; the course should progress no faster than pupils can go with understanding.

Likewise, a decade ago, an NRC report entitled Fulfilling the Promise: Biology Education in the Nation’s Schools addressed biology teaching and the AP program in particular (National Research Council, 1990). This report identified many of the shortcomings noted in the present report and made many of the same recommendations presented herein—most of which have not been implemented in the interim (see Appendix E).

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