Evaluation of the Sustainability and Effectiveness of Inquiry-Based Advanced Placement Science Courses: Evidence From an In-Depth Formative Evaluation and Randomized Controlled Study

This study examines the impact of the newly revised Advanced Placement (AP) Biology and Chemistry courses on students' understanding of and ability to utilize scientific inquiry, on students' confidence in engaging in college-level material, and on students’ enrollment and persistence in college STEM majors. The project provides estimates of the impact of students' AP-course taking on their progress into postsecondary educational experiences and their intent to continue to prepare to be future engineers and scientists.

Award Number: 
1220092
Funding Period: 
Saturday, September 15, 2012 to Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Full Description: 

This study examines the impact of the newly revised Advanced Placement (AP) Biology and Chemistry courses on students' understanding of and ability to apply scientific inquiry, on students' confidence in successfully engaging in college-level material, and on students enrollment and persistence in college STEM majors. AP Biology and Chemistry courses represent an important educational program that operates at a large scale across the country. The extent to which the AP curricula vary in implementation across the schools in the study is also examined to determine the range of students' opportunity to learn the disciplinary content and the knowledge and skills necessary to engage in inquiry in science. Schools that are newly implementing AP courses are participants in this research and the challenges and successes that they experience are also a component of the research plan. Researchers at the University of Washington, George Washington University and SRI International are conducting the study.

The research design for this study includes both formative components and a randomized control experiment. Formative elements include observations, interviews and surveys of teachers and students in the AP courses studied. The experimental design includes the random assignment of students to the AP offered and follows the performances of the treatment and control students in two cohorts into their matriculation into postsecondary educational experiences. Surveys measure students' experiences in the AP courses, their motivations to study AP science, the level of stress they experience in their high school coursework and their scientific inquiry skills and depth of disciplinary knowledge. The study examines the majors chosen by those students who enter into colleges and universities to ascertain the extent to which they continue in science and engineering.

This project informs educators about the challenges and successes schools encounter when they expand access to AP courses. The experiences of the teachers who will be teaching students with variable preparation inform future needs for professional development and support. The project provides estimates of the impact of students' AP-course taking on their progress into postsecondary educational experiences and their intent to continue to prepare to be future engineers and scientists. It informs policy efforts to improve the access to more rigorous advanced courses in STEM and provides strong experimental evidence of the impact of AP course taking. The project has the potential to demonstrate to educational researchers how to study an educational program that operates at scale.

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