These Tests, They Are A-Changin’: AP Tests to Emphasize Creativity and Deeper Learning

By Angela S. “Theater” and “photosynthesis” are not two concepts that you would usually associate with one another, but it is exactly that sort of creative, out-of-the-box thinking that the College Board hopes its new A.P. curriculum will encourage in students. According to the New York Times, the College Board will release new curriculum standards for the 2013 A.P. biology and U.S. history exams next month. The changes will be in effect for the 2012-2013 school year. The new biology exam standards streamline the amount of information students are required to learn. The nature of the biology exam will also be different; the test will contain five questions “based on math calculations” (requiring students to use calculators on the biology exam for the first time) and 55 multiple choice questions instead of the usual 100, as well as nine free-response questions. The revised curriculum requires science teachers to conduct labs differently by encouraging a less structured, more individualized approach: students will develop their own hypotheses, as well as their own experiments to test them. One Massachusetts high school student whose teacher is experimenting with the new standards tapped into her love of theater when assigned the task of learning what factors affect the rate of photosynthesis in living plants. The student used stage light filters—green, sky blue, and “Broadway pink”—to observe the effects of different colors on generating photosynthesis in “sunken spinach leaves” (“Broadway pink” was the most successful). The changes occurred in response to research conducted on current A.P. science curriculum: in 2002, a National Research Council board reported that the curriculum forced students to learn too much information and did not allow for enough creative scientific exploration. According to the board, the sacrifice of educational depth for the broader knowledge required by the A.P. exam has resulted in a missed opportunity for “real learning,” which involves delving deeper into less material so that students have increased opportunities to practice “problem solving” and encounter the nuances of academic exploration. Though the article focuses mainly on changes to the A.P. biology exam, it also mentions that U.S. history curriculum will likewise exhibit a narrower approach to the material. Furthermore, courses will focus less on the memorization of specific dates and more on the development of students’ abilities to write analytical essays. New curriculum for other subjects, like European History, Physics, and Art History, will be available over the next two years. But for those of you who are currently taking an A.P. course, perhaps the most important change of all is that starting this May, scoring for the new A.P. exams will be right-only, meaning that only correct answers will count for a student’s score. If you aren’t sure of an answer, feel free to guess—you have a 20-25 percent of answering correctly.
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