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News Release 06-076

NSF Awards $1.8 Million to Study High-School Advanced Placement Work in Math and Science

College Board will undertake redesign for better access to latest advances, best teaching methods

Changes to the AP science program will reflect the latest research on how students learn.

Changes to the AP science program will reflect the latest research on how students learn.

May 2, 2006

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $1.8 million grant to the College Board to redesign Advanced Placement Program (AP) courses in biology, chemistry, physics and environmental science. The funds will be used to develop a process for making ongoing changes in the courses and exams to incorporate the latest science developments and leverage best practices in science teaching.

"The College Board is grateful to the National Science Foundation for this grant, which will enable us to draw on expertise from the scientific research community to make an excellent program even stronger,' said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board. "Education is the key to our ability to maintain our nation's competitive edge, and high school science instruction is crucial to our country's economic growth. Improved AP science courses, exams and labs will do a better job of training the next generation of scientists and engineers, while driving overall academic reform by raising standards and achievement for all students."

The College Board's AP redesign plan will draw on the recommendations of Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools, issued by the National Research Council in 2002. The grant is especially timely in light of recent calls by President Bush and Congress to train 70,000 new AP science and math teachers and to triple the number of students who successfully complete AP science and math courses within 5 years.

"The challenge is not to find better ways of teaching facts," said Arden Bement, director of the National Science Foundation. "Rather, it is to find better ways of teaching students how to observe, imagine, frame questions and learn by experimentation. These are the fundamentals of science--the principles that can prepare students for a world in which change comes faster than any course or test could ever change."

Studies have shown that U.S. high school students continue to slip further behind other nations in their ability to apply scientific concepts and skills, and the percentage of American undergraduates earning degrees in science and engineering is far below that of other competitive nations. According to America's Pressing Challenge--Building a Stronger Foundation, the National Science Board's companion policy report to Science and Engineering Indicators 2006, K-12 elementary and secondary school indicators show that average mathematics scores on national assessments rose during the past two decades, but performance in science has not improved.

AP students are an important exception. Research indicates that AP math and science courses enable American students to achieve a level of proficiency that exceeds that of students from all other nations. These students are also much more likely to major in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines than students who are first exposed to college-level math and science courses in college.

Changes to the AP science program will reflect the latest research on how students learn. The redesign will emphasize depth of understanding so that students will be better equipped to navigate complex content and to transfer their knowledge during assessments. A "less is more" principle, or the notion that it is better to "uncover material than to cover it," will guide the selection of content. The long-term goal is to increase scientific literacy and encourage more students, especially those from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, to pursue advanced-level study in high school and college and, eventually, to pursue science-related careers.

"This grant aims to give students a better sense of the inquiry process in science and how to reason using scientific evidence. It will promote a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of science, as some of the most important scientific advances, such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, are happening at the intersection of different disciplines," said James Pellegrino, distinguished professor of psychology and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who serves as principal investigator on the grant. "This redesign is an opportunity not only to build the AP Program, but to set a benchmark for science education in high school and middle school and to further integrate assessment with the processes of teaching and learning."

The redesign, which will begin this summer, will be carried out by commissions appointed for each of the four AP science disciplines. The work will be completed in Dec. 2007, providing several years for professional development prior to the launch of the new AP science courses in fall 2009. Pellegrino will lead the project. Mark Reckase, professor of measurement and quantitative methods at Michigan State University, and Jeanne Pemberton, John & Helen Schaefer Professor of Chemistry at the University of Arizona, will serve as co-principal investigators.

More information about the College Board is available at


Media Contacts
M. Mitchell Waldrop, NSF, (703) 292-7752, email:
Sandra Riley, College Board, (212) 713-8052, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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