Monday, January 10, 2011

Fewer, clearer, deeper: Advanced Placement edition

Next month, the [College Board] will release a wholesale revamping of A.P. biology as well as United States history — with 387,000 test-takers the most popular A.P. subject. A preview of the changes shows that the board will slash the amount of material students need to know for the tests and provide, for the first time, a curriculum framework for what courses should look like. The goal is to clear students’ minds to focus on bigger concepts and stimulate more analytic thinking. In biology, a host of more creative, hands-on experiments are intended to help students think more like scientists.
That's from the New York Times, which also reports that the College Board's timetable calls for:

  • The 2011 tests to reflect similar changes in German and French that were already announced.
  • The 2013 tests to reflect those biology and U.S. history changes.
  • The 2014 or 2015 tests to show related shifts for physics, chemistry, European history, world history, and art history.
The article shares details of an overloaded curriculum, jammed with so many details that the big picture and the key skills get crowded out.   As a mark of the skill problem, Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that even students scoring a 5 on the Biology test lacked the problem solving skills they needed for higher-level courses –and stopped offering credit based on those scores. 

Here's a thought.  As P-12 education works toward shared standards for science and history at the lower levels, could we work backward from AP's outlines?  If we planned high school, middle school, and elementary work to lay strong foundations for students to take AP courses, would we put students on track to be ready for college and career?

The full article, with more about the pending changes and multiple positive responses from practicing educators, is here.

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