Mind the gap : a study into the transition between high school and college biology : a study into the transition between high school and college biology
Instructors of college introductory level biology courses agree that the large majority of students enrolled in these courses are inadequately prepared for the course content and coursework. One of the reasons why students are not successful in entry level biology courses (usually required for majors) is that their high school biology course failed to thoroughly prime them for college level science courses. In this study, I examine the knowledge gap between high school and college biology courses and perspectives of students, high school teachers and professors. In particular, the emphasis of this research project is on the transfer of subject content knowledge. To measure the level of student preparedness, I used a survey/pretest hybrid composed of several background questions about students' high school biology experience as well as questions designed to test student understanding of fundamental biological questions. The online survey was administered to over 3000 students in 42 randomly selected universities across six geographical regions of the United States during the first week of their introductory biology course in college. An exit poll was used towards the end of the semester to obtain student perspectives regarding how well prepared they had been for the college biology course they were about to complete. Online questionnaires and phone interviews provided insight into high school teacher and professor perspectives regarding the gap in biology knowledge transfer. The low average score on the pre-test indicates that high school graduates are poorly prepared for college biology in terms of fundamental concept knowledge. Professors agreed with this and most students surveyed at the end of their first college biology course felt that their high school biology experience had not adequately prepared them for college biology or that their teachers or the curriculum they followed could have done more to prepare them. Findings from this study also show that a lack of communication between secondary and higher education biology instructors is an important factor contributing to the misalignment between high school and college biology. Increased vertical communication between the two levels of education would enable secondary school teachers to better prepare their students for the transition to introductory college biology and give professors a more accurate idea of the expectations they can hold their students to.