record of success, follow up on the college placement of students, and assess compliance of high schools with its recommendations for prerequisites.
Whatever their form, AP or other advanced biology courses should not be taken instead of chemistry, physics, or mathematics. Nor should they become the “honors” section, taken in lieu of the first high-school course in biology. The AP biology course should be taken as late in high-school as possible, preferably in the senior year, to enable the subject to be taught as an experimental science to students whose maturity is close to that of college freshmen. Even a properly designed AP course in biology is inappropriate for younger students and for those without maximal preparation in mathematics and the physical sciences.
We suggest that the terminal-year AP biology course provide intensive treatment of a few topics in molecular biology, cell biology, physiology, evolution, and ecology. Emphasis should be on experimental design, experimentation and observation, data analysis, and critical reading. Thus, the course cannot be modeled after existing college courses, which broadly cover all biology. Engaging students in direct investigations of natural phenomena without attempting to “cover” the subject matter of the introductory college biology course is judged by this committee to be more educationally sound than the current program. A rigorous examination devoted to problem solving that requires the application of biological concepts should accompany such a revision.
This course should be taught only by teachers both capable of providing a sophisticated and broad knowledge of biology and having the ability, training, experience, resources, and time to oversee an independent experimental approach. For example, a teacher who has not had first-hand experience in independent research should not be assigned to teach AP biology. Specific inservice training and certification should be used to ensure that only qualified teachers teach the AP course. The College Board should take initiatives to see that the program meets those more demanding specifications, but school administrators must understand and cooperate as well. If AP science courses are to be offered, there should be a line item in the school budget to support them, and they should not be given at the expense of regular science laboratory activities.
The premise that AP courses provide college credit is not necessarily flawed; however, the nature of what the credit is for needs examination. A second course giving instruction in scientific reasoning, based on experimental design, and using sophisticated physical, chemical, and mathematical, as well as biological, principles would in fact provide better preparation for college than the present broad review. Colleges and high schools should both recognize the value of a second course in experimental science taken at the end of high school. Such a course need not be sponsored by the College Board or be designated “advanced placement.”