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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 courses and shorten the time to a college degree. Colleges use a single high-stakes assessment, the national AP examination administered by the College Board through the ETS, as the basis for granting credit and advanced placement. The exam tests knowledge of topics taught in a small sample of college introductory biology courses (see Chapter 3), and the AP courses are designed and taught to maximize student performance on the exam; therefore, a relatively few college introductory courses drive the content and pedagogy of AP courses. The International Baccalaureate Programme was developed in the late 1960s to provide an international standard of secondary education primarily for the children of American, British, and European diplomats and international businesspeople, allowing these children to qualify for university admission in their home countries after undergoing schooling abroad. As with AP, a summative high-stakes exam developed by the IBO is a major component of the assessment process that determines eligibility for university admission, but it is supplemented by several formative assessments, such as a portfolio of laboratory reports, that are also used for student evaluations. Although strong performance in IB courses is used to grant advanced placement at many universities, the focus of the IB program is on providing a high-quality, interdisciplinary university preparatory education rather than fulfilling specific university course requirements. Because it is not constrained by university curricula, IB is freer than the AP program to evolve at its own pace and in its own directions. The AP and IB courses in biology and several other fields are clearly here to stay. They are becoming increasingly popular in American high schools among school administrators, school boards, teachers, students, and parents for many reasons, including the following: For high schools and school systems, because these programs are widely recognized and judged by national or international examinations, offering AP or IB courses can enhance a school’s reputation and help in recruiting and retaining superior students, and may attract more resources from state government. For teachers, AP and IB are generally the most prestigious courses, providing the most resources, attracting the best students, and often offering opportunities for further professional development. For students, the courses provide more challenging learning opportunities, as well as enhanced credentials for college admission. For parents, the courses hold the promise of not only improved chances for college admission, but also college credit, with possible savings in tuition costs. Because of their growing popularity, AP and IB courses represent an excellent opportunity to optimize learning in biology for many of the nation’s best students. However, the panel believes that realizing such optimization will require substantial changes in the way the courses are organized and taught. The panel’s analysis of current AP and IB courses is based primarily on the published course outlines. We are greatly encouraged by the recent report of the AP Commission with regard to the future of AP (Commission on the Future of the Advanced Placement Program, 2001), in particular its recommendation that research leaders in the scientific disciplines and in pedagogy be engaged to ensure that current reforms and best practices are reflected in AP
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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 courses (see Chapter 3). We are well aware that some highly qualified teachers are able to transcend the current prescribed AP and IB curricula, teach state-of-the-art biology, meet many of the content and pedagogical standards set forth in the NSES, and offer courses to which some of the criticisms elaborated below do not apply. For the many teachers who are not prepared to take such initiatives, however, it is important that the curricula and teacher preparation for these courses be upgraded and assessed to ensure high minimum standards of content, laboratory experience, and pedagogy, with the eventual goal of meeting the NSES.
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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 3 Quality and Content of the Learning Experience for Students HOW IS ADVANCED BIOLOGY BEING TAUGHT? AP courses and to a somewhat lesser extent IB courses generally rely on the traditional transmission–reception mode of instruction, rather than a constructivist model in which students develop their own conceptual framework through inquiry-based, problem-centered active learning, as recommended by the NSES. Changes in teaching approach are needed in both programs, as discussed in Chapter 4. Additional problems with AP courses, discussed in the following sections, are that they attempt to cover too many areas in a single year; they are often taught in one standard 47-minute period per day, which makes meaningful laboratory experience almost impossible; and they are driven by the need to prepare students for the AP examination rather than by concern for an optimal student learning experience. These conclusions are based on the panel’s conversations with AP teachers, the written guides for teachers of AP courses, and the emphasis on coverage in the AP tests. WHAT BIOLOGY IS BEING TAUGHT? The AP course outline is not up to date, and it overemphasizes environmental, population, and organismic (EPO) biology at the expense of molecular, cell, and developmental (MCD) and evolutionary biology. Although similarly out of date, the IB curriculum achieves a more appropriate balance of the EPO and MCD areas. The AP curriculum should include more on the process of science, including the responsible conduct of research, and the core IB curriculum should include more evolutionary biology. The core curricula of both programs should be updated to include concepts from current areas of rapid progress, such as genomics, cell signaling, mechanisms of development, and molecular evolution. How Are the Curricula Developed? It should be noted that the above criticisms and suggestions are also applicable to many introductory-level college biology courses. Since a major stated goal of the AP program is to allow students to place out of these courses, the AP curriculum is designed to include all the
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