August 31, 2011

APA Revises National Standards for High School Psychology Curricula

Overarching Themes, New Domains, Updated Content among Major Revisions

WASHINGTON—For the second time in 12 years, the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives approved revisions to the National Standards for High School Psychology Curricula. The document provides educational leaders, teachers and other stakeholders with benchmarks to determine what students should learn in a high school psychology class, and demonstrates the breadth of the field of psychology at the high school level of study.

Major revisions include the addition of overarching themes to provide a foundation for the course and significant changes to the structure of the standards. The revised standards now comprise seven domains (scientific inquiry, biopsychology, development and learning, sociocultural context, cognition, individual variations, applications of psychological science), and new standard areas include those on social interactions, sociocultural diversity, health and vocational applications.

“The revisions emphasize overarching themes that strongly contribute to psychological science,” said National Standards Working Group Chair Amy Fineburg, PhD, of Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, Ala. “For example, diversity issues are part of every domain in psychological education.”

An APA task force of psychologists and psychology educators created the original standards in 1999 to enhance curricula, express learning goals and promote high school introductory psychology courses. The standards guide local school districts and teachers in developing their own curricula.

APA is committed to the teaching of psychological science at the high school level, notably through its support of the APA Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS). The introductory high school psychology course is often the first, and possibly only, exposure to the science of psychology a student may receive.

In 2011, approximately 199,000 high school students took the Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology exam and more than 16,000 students worldwide took the International Baccalaureate (IB) Psychology exam. Regular psychology courses are also taught at the high school level.

“Psychology is one of the fastest growing electives in high school,” Fineburg said. “These standards not only strengthen psychology as an elective, but as a core science course.”

APA advocates that all state departments of education adopt the standards to ensure that psychology is being taught with the same rigor expected of other sciences at the secondary school level. Likewise, APA encourages all school districts and psychology teachers to use the standards in course planning.

In addition to Fineburg, members of the National Standards Working Group responsible for the 2011 revision of the National Standards included: James E. Freeman, PhD, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; David G. Myers, PhD, Hope College, Holland, Mich.; Debra E. Park, Rutgers University, Camden, N.J., West Deptford High School, Westville, N.J. (retired); and Hilary Rosenthal, Glenbrook South High School, Glenview, Ill. The working group was advised by a 10-member panel of experts representing various domains of psychology.

For more information contact: Emily Leary, assistant director, Precollege and Undergraduate Education, at (202) 572-3013 or by email.

The National Standards are available online. Hard copies will be available through the APA Education Directorate this fall.

Information about the APA Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS) can be found online.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 154,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.