ERIC Identifier: ED463949
Publication Date: 2000-12-00
Author: Haury, David L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
High School Biology Textbooks Do Not Meet National Standards.
Apparently bigger is not better when it comes to selecting biology textbooks.
That is the conclusion of a recent study by Project 2061, the ongoing science
and mathematics education reform effort of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS, 2000). Following the publication of guidelines for
what scientifically literate students should know and be able to do (AAAS, 1989,
1993), Project 2061 began developing a curriculum-materials analysis process
(Kulm, Roseman, & Treistman, 1999) to determine the degree to which science
and mathematics textbooks are aligned with the National Science Education
Standards established by the National Research Council (NRC, 1996), Benchmarks
(AAAS, 1993) and other standards. Previous reports of the Project 2061 group
have focused on science textbooks for the middle grades (Roseman, Kesidou,
Stern, & Caldwell, 1999), mathematics textbooks for the middle grades (AAAS,
1999), and algebra textbooks (Kulm, 2000) (Available online at
www.project2061.org/newsinfo/ research/textbook/index.htm). All four studies
found serious weaknesses in the science and mathematics textbooks evaluated, the
most widely used science and mathematics textbooks in American schools. These
are sobering findings given the extent to which teachers use textbooks to guide
instruction and determine curriculum content (Association for Supervision and
Curriculum Development, 1997).
Two independent teams of biology
teachers, science curriculum specialists, and professors of science education
evaluated each of ten leading biology textbooks and teacher guides. (AAAS, 2000)
using a benchmarks-based process (Kulm & Roseman; 1999). For more details on
the evaluation teams, see the description online at
www.project2061.org/newsinfo/research/textbook/hsbio/about.htm. The evaluation
process included both content analysis and instructional analysis.
Content analysis focused on the alignment of textbook content with selected
learning goals from Science for all Americans (AAAS, 1989), the National science
education standards (NRC, 1996), and the Benchmarks for science literacy (AAAS,
1993). Textbook content relating to learning goals in the following topic areas
* Cell structures and functions
Matter and energy transformations
Molecular basis of heredity
Natural selection and evolution
For more detail regarding the specific content analyzed, see the report by
AAAS (2000, p. 202) or view the key ideas online at www.project2061.org/
Instructional analysis included an examination of each textbook's
instructional design using criteria derived from research on learning and
effective teaching, as well the knowledge of experienced teachers. Analysis
focused on only those textbook activities and lessons that are aligned with the
identified content learning goals, and evaluators used criteria within the
Providing a sense of purpose
Taking account of student ideas
Engaging students with the relevant phenomena
Developing and using scientific ideas
Promoting student thinking about phenomena, experiences and knowledge
Enhancing the science learning environment
For more detail regarding the specific criteria used, see the report by AAAS
(2000, p. 201) or view the key ideas online at
None of the evaluated textbooks was given
high ratings. Following are examples of common problems (AAAS, 2000):
In designing activities and questions, textbooks fail to take into account the
research that shows essentially all students having predictable difficulties
grasping many ideas covered in the textbooks.
Textbooks ignore or obscure many of the most important concepts by focusing
instead on technical terms and trivial details that are easy to test.
The lavish illustrations of textbooks "are rarely helpful because they are too
abstract, needlessly complicated, or inadequately explained."
Students are given little help in interpreting the results of activities in
terms of the science concepts to be learned.
Graphic summaries of the content analysis results can be downloaded in PDF
format at www.project2061.org/newsinfo/research/textbook/hsbio/ findings.htm,
and charts illustrating the findings of the instructional analysis can be
downloaded at www.project2061.org/newsinfo/research/textbook/hsbio/charts.htm.
What seems most striking from content analysis is the omission of some key
concepts in the topics examined, and the general lack of connections made among
the key ideas of biology. For instance, in the category of cell structures and
functions, the key idea that various organs and tissues function to serve the
needs of all cells for food, air, and waste removal is typically omitted. In the
treatment of the molecular basis of heredity, the idea that an altered gene may
be passed on to every cell that develops from it is typically omitted. Within
the topic of natural selection and evolution, the key idea that heritable
characteristics influence how likely an organism is to survive and reproduce is
typically omitted. In this same category, there is a set of important supporting
ideas about the nature of scientific theories and how evidence is gathered and
interpreted that is typically omitted.
In reviewing the results of the instructional analysis, it is immediately
obvious how profoundly dominant the poor ratings are for every textbook in every
category. There are few exceptions. Of the 91 data points for each textbook,
none received a rating higher than "fair" on more than 28 of the factors
examined. All but one textbook received a rating of "poor" on 63 or more of the
91 criteria considered. The only unconditional "excellent" ratings were given to
three textbooks for "conveying unit purpose" in a topic area. No book received
this rating for more than two of five topic areas. Every textbook received
uniformly "poor" ratings for every criterion in the category "taking account of
student ideas." Ironically, despite decades of emphasis on experiential learning
in science, few textbooks earned a rating above "poor" on any criterion related
to "engaging students with relevant phenomena" in any topic area other than
natural selection and evolution. Perhaps we should declare all topics in biology
ACTIONS TEACHERS CAN TAKE
In addition to the longstanding
admonition for science teachers to avoid relying solely on textbooks to define
and structure the curriculum, here are some specific recommendations by the
textbook evaluators (AAAS, 2000):
Use trade books on science topics to enhance your own understanding and
compensate for lack of content coherence in textbooks.
Study the research on student learning cited in the evaluation reports to enrich
classroom activities and develop new ones.
Participate in professional development opportunities that include attention to
both knowledge of key ideas in biology and strategies for teaching those ideas
Encourage support for curriculum development efforts that focus on creating a
coherent picture of key ideas for specific biology topics, "using a
research-based development and testing process to ensure that the instructional
strategies promote learning the key ideas" (p. 200).
Action of a more immediate nature includes helping students get more meaning
out of the textbooks currently in their classrooms. Acknowledging the
difficulties in learning from textbooks, Ulerick (2000) suggests some
alternative ways to use and learn from textbooks. She suggests that the most
powerful strategy is to give students more meaningful purposes for reading
textbooks, such as: (a) obtaining background or explanatory information for
projects; (b) obtaining data, or (c) challenging their own ideas with new
viewpoints. In short, present reading as a way of obtaining answers to their
questions. One way to make this process more effective is to help students
generate questions themselves from classroom experiences.
Ulerick also suggests using graphic strategies, such as concept mapping and
related techniques, to assist students in visualizing how key ideas are related
to each other. Given the particular weakness of textbooks in promoting the
connections among ideas, this seems a particularly important strategy. It is
further suggested that "students' personal 'maps' of ideas can be related to
text readings. Prior to reading, students can map their understanding of how
concepts...are related to a particular topic. As they read, they can add to
their map or revise it, in light of the information presented. Or they can make
a map of the reading and compare it to their own." For more strategies, see
Ulerick (2000) online at www.narst.org/research/textbook2.htm.
In the final analysis, it is crucial to realize that our current biology
textbooks have many shortcomings and cannot be relied upon to provide the sole
content and structure for biology instruction at the high school level. Teachers
must take on the responsibility of contextualizing the role of textbooks within
effective instructional practices that include enriching activities, purposeful
reading, and a questioning attitude. Beyond participating in ongoing
professional development and continually supplementing textbook resources with
other materials, teachers are encouraged to become familiar with the key ideas
in biology that are identified by the "National Science Education Standards"
(NRC, 1996) and other reform documents and take action to ensure that their
students engage those ideas.
American Association for the Advancement of
Science. (1989). "Science for all Americans." New York: Oxford University Press.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). "Benchmarks for
science literacy." New York: Oxford University Press.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (1999). "Middle grades
mathematics textbooks: A benchmarks-based evaluation." Washington, DC: Author.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2000,
September/October). Big biology books fail to convey big ideas, reports AAAS's
Project 1061. "Science Books & Films", 36(5), 199-202. (Available online at
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (1997). "Education
Kulm, G. (2000, May/June). Rating algebra textbooks. "Science Books &
Films," 36(3), 104-106.
Kulm, G., & Roseman, J.E. (1999, July/August). A benchmarks-based
approach to textbook evaluation. "Science Books & Films," 35(4), 147-153.
National Research Council (1996). "National science education standards."
Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Roseman, J.E., Kesidou, S., Stern, L., & Caldwell, A. (1999,
November/December). Heavy books light on learning: AAAS Project 2061 evaluates
middle grades science textbooks. "Science Books & Films," 35(6), 243-247.
Ulerick, S.L. (2000). "Using textbooks for meaningful learning in science."
National Association for Research in Science Teaching. Retrieved December 24,
2000, from the World Wide Web: http://www.narst.org/research/textbook2.htm