IMSA has decided to give half of the Class of 2020 a new, experimental biology class. Traditionally, all IMSA sophomores take four required, semester-long science courses during their sophomore year; this year, only half of IMSA sophomores will follow that path.
The other half of sophomores will instead take only three semester-long science courses during their sophomore year: Scientific Inquiries (SI) Chemistry, SI Physics, and Methods in Scientific Inquiry (MSI). During their junior year, these students will take a year-long biology course to replace SI Biology. The new year-long course is known as Advanced Biological Systems (ABS).
Dr. David DeVol, the Operational Coordinator of the Science Department, says that the “science department gave a lot of thought and discussion to this issue.” He adds that since IMSA is a learning laboratory, the science department ultimately decided to make the decision to implement the change and observe how it affected students taking ABS.
He acknowledges that there are pros and cons. Pros include the obvious benefit of giving teachers more time to teach students in-depth biology. Students taking ABS will have more time to explore different areas of biology, showing them which electives they might want to take in the future.
With every benefit, however, there is a cost. Potential cons include forcing many students who do not enjoy biology into taking a full year of biology and, as Dr. DeVol points out, “students are going to have less time for electives, particularly in their junior year.”
Both the Science Department and Office of Institutional Research (OIR) put a lot of thought into the decision. Dr. Amber Pareja, the Executive Director of Institutional Research at IMSA, reports that the decision to not transition 100% immediately and to instead divide sophomores into the two classes randomly along a 50/50 split was a research one.
“A lot of times in education, people don’t take the time to research exactly what is best for the students,” said Dr. Pareja. “This time, we are.”
All the effects of ABS cannot be predicted, and so a random assignment of students under as similar conditions as possible would give the most reliable data as to the effects of the class. This data will help the administration decide whether to make ABS the required biology class for all IMSA students or to instead stay with SI Biology. Some data that will be considered is information retention rates and selection of electives.
Dr. Don Dosch, Curriculum and Assessment Leader of the Science Department, says that ABS has the potential to change IMSA for years to come and that its implementation is not a decision to be taken lightly. The OIR’s careful approach of it is important, because despite varying opinions on ABS, the truth of its consequences can only be found through research.
The decision is controversial among students, and many have been eager to point out another drawback. Junior year is already considered a hard year, and SI Biology is already considered a hard class. Angelica Villegas (’18) points out, “bio is infamous at IMSA for having a lot of work attached to it. If you have all this work for a full year, then it’ll increase the workload of an already hard junior year.” She predicts that for IMSA sophomores taking year-long biology, junior year will be “a more than average stressful year”.
The attitude of those slated for ABS is generally that of a cautious interest and apprehension. Maxine Alexandre-Strong (’20) hasn’t enjoyed biology in the past and says, “I’ve heard that SI Bio is really hard, and that makes me worried about year-long biology.” On the other hand, she thinks that ABS “might be more spread out and less crammed with info.”
Zahra Vasi (’20), on the other hand, enjoyed biology at her previous high school, but says, “I don’t like that I’ll have less time to take biology electives.” She is also aware of the fact that she may come to dislike biology once she gets deeper into the subject, and she doesn’t “know if she wants to do it for a whole year.”
While opinions on ABS have been divided, nobody can know anything for sure until next year, when it actually begins. For now, sophomores taking ABS can only wonder what next year will bring.