Quality and Content of the Learning Experience for Students


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.


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 Although similarly out of date, the IB curriculum achieves a more appropriate balance of the EPO and MCD areas.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

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement