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New Standards Unveiled for High School Psychology

The American Psychological Association has just issued a set of revised national standards to guide the teaching of introductory psychology in high school, with a focus on seven domains, from scientific inquiry to cognition.

The standards come, the APA says, at a time of growing student enrollment in psychology courses at the secondary level. For example, in 2011, nearly 200,000 students took the Advanced Placement exam in psychology, a huge bump from the roughly 3,900 students who took it the first year back in 1992.

(I should note that the APA joined a long list of groups that criticized the absence of the social and behavioral sciences as "core sciences" in a framework for new national science standards recently completed by a National Research Council panel.)

The psychology-standards document, released last week, "is an outline of the basic core essentials of psychological science and practice to be taught in the introductory psychology course, and is intended to be relevant to the lives of high school students," the APA writes in an introduction.

The revisions include the addition of overarching themes to provide a foundation for the course and some changes to the structure of the standards, the APA explains in a press release.

"The revisions emphasize overarching themes that strongly contribute to psychological science," Amy Fineburg, who chaired the national standards working group and teaches at Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, Ala., said in the press release. "For example, diversity issues are part of every domain in psychological education."

Here's the full list of contributors to the standards, which were approved last month by the APA's Council of Representatives. The standards were first developed in 1999 and last revised them in 2005.

The seven domains identified in the new standards are: scientific inquiry, biopsychology, development and learning, sociocultural context, cognition, individual variation, and applications of psychological science.

At the outset of the document, the APA makes its case for why secondary students should learn about psychology. (For the record, I took my first and only psychology class as a freshman in college.)

"Most of society's challenging problems—including crime, poverty, prejudice, violence, and environmental sustainability—are related to human attitudes, values, and behavior. Psychological science, in collaboration with other scientific fields, informs our understanding of these problems and their solutions. Considering that psychology has the potential to benefit society and improve people's lives, an introduction to psychological science merits inclusion in the high school curriculum. Students may apply knowledge gained from an introductory psychology course to their daily lives."

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