Schwartz Sadler Sonnert Tai - Science Education 2008

Depth versus breadth: How content coverage in high school science courses relates to later success in college science coursework

Sci Ed 1-29, 2008

Marc S. Schwartz , Philip M. Sadler, Gerhard Sonnert, Robert H. Tai

This study relates the performance of college students in introductory science courses to the amount of content covered in their high school science courses. The sample includes 8310 students in introductory biology, chemistry, or physics courses in 55 randomly chosen U.S. colleges and universities. Students who reported covering at least 1 major topic in depth, for a month or longer, in high school were found to earn higher grades in college science than did students who reported no coverage in depth. Students reporting breadth in their high school course, covering all major topics, did not appear to have any advantage in chemistry or physics and a significant disadvantage in biology. Care was taken to account for significant covariates: socioeconomic variables, English and mathematics proficiency, and rigor of their preparatory high science course. Alternative operationalizations of depth and breadth variables result in very similar findings. We conclude that teachers should use their judgment to reduce coverage in high school science courses and aim for mastery by extending at least 1 topic in depth over an extended period of time. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.