AP bio, history tests finally get somewhat "real"

Thanks to my colleague Ms. Mckinney, who sent this NYTimes article on the changes that being made to the AP history and biology tests. It seems the folks at College Board Corp have finally read Charles Dickens’ Hard Times and understood the problem with the Gradgrind curriculum. Because high schools measure themselves on AP-ness, juniors and seniors have increasingly been turned into mindless knowledge machines.

According to the article  test-makers starting in 2012-13 will focus on “big picture” knowledge and problem-solving ability, which is good, since practical: “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.”  

Later the article describes how, when scientists get a look at the actual effect AP tests have on higher learners, they reject their use. “In 2007, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for instance, stopped giving credit for A.P. biology, and developed its own placement exam. Stuart Schmill, M.I.T.’s dean of admissions, says the biology department found that even some of the students who scored 5’s did not have the problem-solving skills needed for higher-level courses.” Too long in the echo-chamber, and test-makers begin to believe their own publicity.

In my opinion, anything that results in students learning more practical skills and less pointless knowledge is good. But it is also a hopeful sign when high stakes, standardized test-makers recognize their negative impact on high school curricula when they become too broad for coherence or utility.

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