Increased structure and active learning reduce the achievement gap in introductory biology

Science. 2011 Jun 3;332(6034):1213-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1204820.


Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics instructors have been charged with improving the performance and retention of students from diverse backgrounds. To date, programs that close the achievement gap between students from disadvantaged versus nondisadvantaged educational backgrounds have required extensive extramural funding. We show that a highly structured course design, based on daily and weekly practice with problem-solving, data analysis, and other higher-order cognitive skills, improved the performance of all students in a college-level introductory biology class and reduced the achievement gap between disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged students--without increased expenditures. These results support the Carnegie Hall hypothesis: Intensive practice, via active-learning exercises, has a disproportionate benefit for capable but poorly prepared students.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Biology / education*
  • Curriculum
  • Educational Measurement
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Minority Groups
  • Models, Educational
  • Problem-Based Learning*
  • Students*
  • Teaching / methods*
  • Universities
  • Washington