by David Safier
High school students who focus more intensely on core topics within their biology, chemistry, and physics classes fared better in beginning college science than those who delved a little bit into a larger list of topics, the study found. Observers say those findings could offer direction to developers of science curricula, tests, and textbooks.
A central finding is that "breadth-based learning, as commonly applied in high school classrooms, does not appear to offer students any advantage when they enroll in introductory college science courses," the authors conclude, "although it may contribute to scores on standardized tests."
In-depth teaching can have a major impact, the authors maintain. Students who experience deeper coverage of physics in high school perform in college as if they had received two-thirds of a year more preparation than those who had the opposite mix of depth and breadth. In chemistry, students appeared to gain the equivalent of one-quarter of a year’s worth of study from in-depth lessons, the authors found.
In biology, students taught under an approach emphasizing breadth performed as if they had received a half-year less preparation in high school in that subject.