Reading: Depth Versus Breadth: How Content Coverage in High School Science Courses Relates to Later Success in College Science Coursework


Schwartz, Sadler, Sonnert, Tai

Depth or Breadth in high school science? The answer is a resounding “depth”. This is a study involving 7000 university students.

“…indicates that those students reporting high school science experiences associated with the group “depth present–breadth absent” have an advantage equal to two thirds of a year of instruction over their peers who had the opposite high school experience (“Depth Absent–Breadth Present”)”

“These appear to be that students whose teachers choose broad coverage of content, on the average, experience no benefit. In the extended model, we arrive at these results while accounting for important differences in students’ backgrounds and academic performance, which attests to the robustness of these findings. The findings run counter to philosophical positions that favor breadth or those that advocate a balance between depth and breadth”

“Students who experience breadth of coverage in high school biology perform in college biology as if they had experienced half a year less preparation than students without breadth of coverage, whereas those who are exposed to in-depth coverage perform as if they had had half a year more preparation than the students without depth of coverage. In chemistry, depth appears to be equivalent to one quarter of a year more of high school preparation. In physics, the effect is closer to two thirds of a year more preparation” 


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