NEW YORK — The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program® (AP®), in collaboration with the National Science Foundation, expert faculty from the nation’s top colleges and universities, and master AP teachers, has completed revising the AP Biology program and is pleased to announce that these changes will take effect in the 2012-13 academic year.
“The revisions were enacted to address a challenging situation in science education at a critical juncture for American competitiveness,” said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board. “The body of scientific knowledge is constantly expanding. The revisions will help science educators ensure that their instruction is fresh and current and that students develop not just a solid knowledge of the facts but also the ability to practice science and think critically about scientific issues.”
The revised AP Biology course and exam align with the knowledge and skills that many rigorous college-level introductory biology courses now seek to nurture, emphasizing the development of scientific inquiry and reasoning skills. Lab work is a critical component of the course, requiring students to master such skills as posing questions; collecting, analyzing and evaluating data; connecting fundamental concepts; and then defending their conclusions based on experiments.
“The revised course objectives will enable teachers and students to explore key topics in depth and will help students learn to reason with the rigor and objectivity of scientists,” said Trevor Packer, vice president of the Advanced Placement Program at the College Board.
In the September 2009 issue of Science magazine, Bruce Alberts, a renowned biochemist and editor-in-chief of Science, praised the revisions for helping to expand critical thinking and called the course a “major reform” in science education. “The changes to the AP Biology course curriculum and laboratory investigations provide greater emphasis on the type of scientific inquiry that increases reasoning skills and conceptual understanding,” said Alberts, who also served as president of the National Academy of Sciences. “Through inquiry-based laboratories and other activities, students will also discover how scientific knowledge is obtained. These revisions represent a major reform in science education that will enable many more young Americans to experience science as a special ‘way of knowing’ about the world.”
James W. Pellegrino, distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, and co-director at the Learning Sciences Research Institute of the University of Illinois at Chicago, said, “The changes to AP Biology are substantial and significant in two ways. First, the curriculum framework puts an emphasis on the most important scientific understandings that have accrued in the discipline. Second, and equally important, the framework emphasizes the types of reasoning about scientific ideas and principles and their use that is at the heart of the scientific enterprise.”
“The course plays a critical role in preparing students for careers in science,” said Packer. “A 2007 study showed that 19 percent of AP Biology students choose to major in biology or a related field in college1, and a study published by Harvard Education Press in spring 2010 found that AP science students were more than twice as likely to major in life sciences in college than their peers who had not taken any AP science exams.2”
The Revision Process
With the support of the National Science Foundation, the College Board convened experts in biology, science learning and cognitive science from the nation’s top colleges, universities and secondary schools. This commission identified four primary concepts that emphasize the systematic nature of all living things. These four “big ideas” make up the core of the new AP Biology curriculum framework, which specifies the content knowledge students must learn and the tasks students must be able to perform using that knowledge. This specificity gives science educators a clear picture of what students must know and be able to do to be ready for placement into subsequent college-level biology courses.
To ensure that teachers and students focus on the practice of science and not just the memorization of scientific facts, department chairs from colleges and universities nationwide reviewed the full range of content in most college biology textbooks, identifying the essential knowledge and skills that an introductory college biology course should cultivate. These department chairs wholeheartedly endorsed the need to reduce breadth and increase depth of coverage, focusing on science practices. As a result of this work, a significant amount of nonessential content was removed from the scope of AP Biology, freeing up time for students to engage in science practices throughout the academic year.
“Ensuring the right breadth of content coverage, so teachers and students have time to focus on developing and practicing the scientific inquiry and reasoning skills so crucial to further careers in science, has been a primary focus in this redesign of AP Biology,” said Packer. “The essential understandings that students develop when they learn by doing, rather than just by memorizing, is the sort of learning that the AP revisions are designed to foster.”
Accordingly, the revised AP Biology Exam will focus on measuring a student’s ability to apply knowledge — to develop and test scientific hypotheses, for example. The number of multiple-choice questions has been reduced by nearly half, and these will focus on the application of scientific knowledge. The number of open-ended questions that require students to construct a response is more than doubling, and new questions will require the integration of science and mathematics skills.
In 2010, the AP Biology program served more than 172,000 students in nearly 9,500 secondary schools.
Developments in Other AP Courses and Exams
Committees of college faculty and AP teachers are making final edits to the new AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework. Reviews of the draft by AP teachers identified changes to formatting, layout, and design as well as additional clarifications that would specify the changes to the course and describe how the breadth challenge has been addressed. After incorporating these final suggestions from AP teachers, the revised AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework will be available in fall 2011. Accordingly, the revised AP U.S. History course and exam will go into effect in the 2013-14 academic year, with the first exam being administered in May 2014.
AP course and exam revisions announced previously include the following:
Scheduled for implementation in the 2011-12 academic year:
- AP French Language and Culture
- AP German Language and Culture
- AP World History
Scheduled for implementation in the 2012-13 academic year:
- AP Latin
- AP Spanish Literature and Culture
In addition, the College Board recently announced the reinstatement of the AP Italian Language and Culture course and exam, to be implemented in 2011-12.
During the next few years, developments in AP courses and exams will continue in history, science and world languages, bringing additional benefits to students, teachers and other members of the AP community. Comprehensive details about these changes can be found online at advancesinap.collegeboard.org, a website designed to support the AP community.
About the Advanced Placement Program
The College Board's Advanced Placement Program® (AP®) enables students to pursue college-level studies while still in high school. Through more than 30 college-level courses, each culminating in a rigorous exam, AP provides willing and academically prepared students with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement or both. Taking AP courses also demonstrates to college admission officers that students have sought the most rigorous curriculum available to them. Each AP teacher's syllabus is evaluated and approved by college faculty from some of the nation's leading institutions, and AP Exams are developed and scored by college faculty and experienced AP teachers. AP is accepted by more than 3,800 colleges and universities worldwide for college credit, advanced placement or both on the basis of successful AP Exam scores. This includes over 90 percent of four-year institutions in the United States. In 2010, 1.8 million students representing more than 17,000 schools around the world, both public and nonpublic, took 3.2 million AP Exams.
The College Board
The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the College Board was created to expand access to higher education. Today, the membership association is made up of more than 5,900 of the world’s leading educational institutions and is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education. Each year, the College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success — including the SAT® and the Advanced Placement Program®. The organization also serves the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools.
Jennifer Topiel, the College Board, 212-713-8052, firstname.lastname@example.org
1 By way of contrast, overall about 6 percent of college students choose to major in biology or a related major. Source: Rick Morgan and John Klaric, “AP Students in College: An Analysis of Five-Year Academic Careers,” New York: The College Board, 2007.
2 Source: Robert H. Tai, Christine Qi Liu, John T. Almarode and Xitao Fan, “Advanced Placement Course Enrollment and Long-Range Educational Outcomes.” AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, 2010.