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Evaluation of the Sustainability and Effectiveness of Inquiry-Based Advanced Placement Science Courses: Evidence from an In-Depth Formative Evaluation & Randomized Controlled Study
Last registered on November 22, 2013


Trial Information
General Information
Evaluation of the Sustainability and Effectiveness of Inquiry-Based Advanced Placement Science Courses: Evidence from an In-Depth Formative Evaluation & Randomized Controlled Study
Initial registration date
Not yet registered
Last updated
November 22, 2013 5:26 PM EST
Primary Investigator
University of Washington
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
SRI International
PI Affiliation
George Washington University
Additional Trial Information
On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
NSF 1220092
Project Summary

1. Intellectual Merit
Type of Proposal: Full Research and Development
Strand: Scale-up & Sustainability

The Advanced Placement curriculum developed by the College Board aims to prepare high school students for the rigor of college coursework. In collaboration with NSF, the NRC, and educators across the nation, the Board is revising AP science courses to better develop students’ ability to conduct scientific inquiry. The revised courses emphasize depth of inquiry and application as opposed to the acquisition of limited knowledge in many content areas. The new courses in biology and chemistry will be launched in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The Board plans to provide supports to teachers to help them implement the new AP curricula, including online resources and community building activities.

The goals of our study are to conduct a formative and summative evaluation of the new curriculum and produce findings that can be used by the Board and educators to strengthen the teaching of advanced science courses in high school. We will recruit and provide resources to schools to launch a new inquiry-based AP Biology or Chemistry course, and randomly assign students within the recruited schools access to the newly-offered courses. To evaluate and improve the fidelity of AP course implementation, we will conduct surveys, interviews, and observations of teachers and students in the AP courses, and provide real-time feedback to educators. Our summative evaluation will determine the effects of the scaled-up, inquiry-based curricula on students’ ability to conduct scientific inquiry and their overall educational performance and aspirations, including the number, quality, and type of colleges to which students apply and enroll. We will examine variation in the effects of the new courses according to students’ prior level of preparation and the level of fidelity with which the courses are implemented.

2. Broader Impact
The results of this study will impact schools’ willingness and capacity to offer AP and other college-level inquiry-based science courses and will enhance scholarship on the effects of inquiry-based science teaching and learning by:

(1) providing evidence of the challenges and successes encountered by schools that expand access to rigorous inquiry-based science courses and to teachers who teach the courses to students with different levels of preparation;

(2) providing estimates of the impact of taking these courses on students’ progress in higher educational attainment and continuation on the path to becoming future scientists and engineers; and

(3) creating opportunities for regular communication between practitioners and researchers around implementation and program improvement, thus enhancing the infrastructure for research and education.

The results of this study will provide the first experimental evidence on the effects of taking an inquiry-based AP science course on students’ educational progress generally and their success in STEM fields in particular. As there have been widespread federal and state policy efforts to increase the availability of AP courses and the number of students taking such courses, the results of this research will help inform such policy efforts in the future.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Conger, Dylan, Raymond Jr and Mark Long. 2013. "Evaluation of the Sustainability and Effectiveness of Inquiry-Based Advanced Placement Science Courses: Evidence from an In-Depth Formative Evaluation & Randomized Controlled Study." AEA RCT Registry. November 22. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.140-3.0.
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Experimental Details
Randomized access of eligible high schools students to a newly offered Advanced Placement biology or Advanced Placement chemistry course.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Scientific inquiry skills, high school to college transitions, college succsess.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
a) students' interest in and ability to conduct scientific inquiry; b) students' confidence in their ability to successfully engage in college-level material; c) the number and quality of the colleges to which students apply; d) enrollment in a 4-year college upon high school graduation; e) enrollment in a more selective 4-year college; and f) desire to pursue a STEM major in college. In the second period of the research, we plan to evaluate the effect of the courses on students’ choice of and success in STEM majors as well as their overall college performance, including grades and whether they graduate within four, five, and six years.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
Random assignment at the individual level.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done in office by a computer
Randomization Unit
Individual student
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Up to 40 schools.
Sample size: planned number of observations
4,800 students.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
All participating schools have both treatment and control students.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
University of Washington
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Is the intervention completed?
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)