Speaking of Education

APA’s efforts to support the teaching of high school psychology are an integral part of advancing the recognition of psychology as a science — one of three goals in the new APA strategic plan. Enhancing the pipeline of talented students who study psychology is one way to ensure that our discipline will continue to grow and prosper for future generations.

High school psychology courses also communicate the relevance of psychological science to everyday life and thus serve as an important public education tool. The high school classroom is often the first time students have the opportunity to learn about psychology; how our discipline is presented is critical to our future.

Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and regular psychology are taught in high schools across the country. More than 150,000 students took the AP psychology exam in 2009, up from 4,000 in 1992. Psychology has also been the seventh largest exam volume for both AP and IB exams. Perhaps most compelling is that according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 31 percent of graduating students earned credits in a psychology course during high school. If one considers that approximately 3.3 million students graduated from high school in 2009, then nearly 1 million students graduated having taken a psychology course.

APA has been committed to the teaching of high school psychology for several decades. Since the 1970s, high school teachers have been able to join APA as teacher affiliates. In the early 1990s, APA reaffirmed the importance of high school psychology by forming the APA Committee of Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools. Today, TOPSS remains a vibrant committee of educators committed to ensuring that high school psychology teachers have the resources they need to promote the teaching of psychological science. Today, APA has more than 1,600 High School Teacher Affiliates. Ongoing TOPSS opportunities and resources include:

  • TOPSS Unit Lesson Plans for high school teachers, each with content, activities, and resources for different units of introductory psychology.

  • The Annual APA/Clark University Workshop for High School Teachers, sponsored by the American Psychological Foundation, APA and Clark University, held each summer at the Clark campus in Worcester, Mass.

  • Summer Institutes for High School Teachers and TOPSSsponsored sessions at the APA Annual Convention.

  • APA TOPSS Scholars Essay Competition and Academic Achievement in Psychology Certificates recognize outstanding student achievement.

  • Support for science fair participation including the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

  • APA TOPSS Excellence in Teaching Awards, to recognize outstanding high school teachers.

  • Other resources include a regional coordinators network, a mentor program, a speakers bureau and psychology posters for the high school classroom.

A signature resource for high school psychology is the APA policy detailed in the National Standards for High School Psychology Curricula outlining what students should know and be able to do after completing a high school psychology course. This document is being revised for the second time; a draft will be available for public comment later this year.

What can you do? Locate a local high school, ask if there is a psychology course at the school, and then share this article or the TOPSS Web site with those teaching psychology. If they are not currently an APA High School Teacher Affiliate, ask them to consider joining. The professional and curricular support TOPSS offers benefits not just teachers, but also the students enrolled in their courses.

You can also help APA encourage the adoption of the national standards at both the local and state level. See TOPSS for more information, and contact Emily Leary by e-mail with any questions.

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