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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Knowledge in Action Research: Results to Date

Results to date suggest that project-based learning in Advanced Placement (AP) classes may help deepen student learning as well as improve performance on AP Tests.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

Outcomes from the Knowledge in Action (KIA) project-based learning (PBL) Advanced Placement (AP) course(s) were compared with outcomes from traditionally taught AP courses among student groups who were matched for school-level achievement and socioeconomic status. Students in the Knowledge in Action research participated in two formal assessments:

  • College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) Exam (given between May and June each year): The AP test primarily measures students’ ability to recall information related to a particular curriculum area through tasks that require them to identify and describe.
  • Complex Scenario Test (CST) (given between May and June each year): Designed as a performance assessment of deeper understanding, the CST measures how well students can apply information and knowledge to generate advice or to solve problems in a new simulated real-world scenario.

Students taking a project-based learning (PBL) course do as well or better on the AP test, and in some cases significantly better, when compared to control classes.

Knowledge in Action:

A project-based learning (PBL) Advanced Placement (AP) student at North High School in Des Moines, IA (above); a high school student gives a presentation in a PBL AP U.S. Government and Politics class (right).

Credit: Gabriel Miller

In both AP United States Government and Politics (APGOV) and AP Environmental Science (APES), the research propositions are consistently confirmed:

  • Students taking a PBL course do as well or better, in some cases significantly better, on the AP test when compared with students in control classes.
  • Students taking a PBL course generally score higher on the CST compared with controls.
  • Overall, the majority of students, at least 80 percent, taking a PBL course state that the greatest value is the ability to apply what they have learned to their lives outside of class.

Students taking a PBL course generally score higher on the test for deeper understanding compared to controls.

APGOV

AP Test Results
  • Since 2008-09, students in PBL APGOV classrooms have performed as well or better on the AP Exam as compared with students in control schools. Findings show the following:
    • PBL students from high-achieving schools had a 30 percent higher pass rate on the APGOV exam than non-PBL students in comparable schools.
    • PBL students from moderately achieving schools had an eight percent higher pass rate on the APGOV exam than non-PBL students in high-achieving control schools.
    • Statistically, PBL students in poverty-impacted schools performed as well or better on the AP Exam as compared with non-PBL students in comparable schools matched nationally.
CST Results
  • Since 2008-09, students in PBL courses have generally performed better on the CST than students in our control classrooms. Results show the following:
    • PBL students in moderately achieving to poverty-impacted schools have performed as well as non-PBL students in high-achieving schools in both dimensions of deeper understanding within the discipline (content and reasoning).

At least 80% of students taking a PBL course state that the greatest value is the ability to apply what they have learned to their lives outside of class.

APES

AP Test Results
  • Since 2010-11, APES students in PBL classrooms have performed as well or slightly better on the AP Exam as compared with students in non-PBL control classrooms.
CST Results
  • Since 2010-11, students in PBL classrooms have generally performed as well or better on the CST as compared with students in non-PBL control classrooms in all three dimensions of deeper understanding within the discipline (content, reasoning, and scope of learning).

2012-13 Research Highlights

  • PBL APGOV students in two poverty-impacted schools had an 88 percent pass rate (scoring 3 or higher out of 5) and a 55 percent high pass rate (scoring 4 or 5 out of 5) in comparison with the national average of a 24 percent pass rate and a ten percent high pass rate for students in comparable schools.
  • PBL APES students in poverty-impacted schools had a 19 percent higher pass rate than non-PBL students in comparable schools matched nationally.
  • PBL APES students in poverty-impacted schools, on average, earned 33 percent higher scores on the AP Exam than non-PBL students in control schools.
  • PBL APES students in poverty-impacted classrooms have performed better on the CST as compared to non-PBL students in comparable schools.
  • Teachers participating in the study saw gains of 20 percent on AP test pass rates when they adopted the Knowledge in Action PBL curriculum when compared with the performance of their students from the previous year at the same school using a traditionally taught curriculum.

Continue to the next section of the KIA research review, Next Steps.

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arnold mallory's picture
arnold mallory
high school 9-12 all required science courses/ some algebra, kansas city, k

some approach to learning is and effective ways to help all students learn through doing science and retaining what they learn. I have used this method for teaching and learning for a long time, I have evidence of success. The real barriers for most teachers is the lack know how and fear from being out of their comfort zones. This can be dealt with if they get help from their administrators are not too afraid to learn new things from others.

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