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Biology Texts Evaluated in 'Apolitical' Review

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In what it calls "the first major apolitical effort" by an institution in the sciences or education to review the quality of biology textbooks, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has published more than 100 evaluations of 35 major biology textbooks and supplementary manuals used or scheduled to be used in middle and high schools across the country.

The list, which appears in the May issue of the association's review journal, Science Books & Films, is intended to assist members of textbook-selection committees, according to association officials.

"We asked our reviewers to review many aspects of the textbooks' coverage in 10 key conceptual areas of the biological sciences," including evolution, explained Kathleen Johnston, editor of Science Books & Films.

The subject of creationism was not addressed in the reviews, she added, because "it's not considered an area that should be listed under key concepts in the biological sciences by most people who are involved in either biology or science education."

Some 65 percent of all American high-school students take biology as their only science course, according to the aaas And "the vast majority" of those students learn about the subject from a single textbook.

Review Criteria

The criteria used to evaluate the biology texts were developed by aaas staff members in conjunction with 16 consulting scientists and educators. Many of the titles reviewed, including those published by Houghton-Mifflin, Prentice-Hall, Macmillan, Merrill, and Scott Foresman, and eight other publishing houses, are expected to be considered in the next year in major textbook-adoption states, including California and North Carolina, according to the aaas

"Implicit in the process and the criteria used [to evaluate and select biology textbooks] is the view that good science texts should: elucidate the nature of science; supply adequate scientific content; lead the student to understand the degree of credibility that can be placed in scientific data compared to assertions based on other world views (e.g., astronomy vs. astrology); and be pedagogically sound," according to a description of the project's purpose.

Each textbook, according to the aaas, was reviewed by a current or former middle- or secondary-school biology teacher, a science educator, and a biologist. The volunteer reviewers assessed the level of difficulty (appropriate grade level and orientation of student), the content (objectivity, accuracy, and currency), and the organization of the books they reviewed. They also considered the books' illustrations in their review.

The printed evaluations explain reviewer ratings of general and specific content items and feature signed reviews by each of the text's three reviewers, including recommendations for or against a book's use.

No Formal Summary

Although the science association offers no summary of the reviewers' overall findings, the individual reviews suggest that most of the 35 texts fall into the "fair," "adequate," or "good" categories in terms of specific content evaluation.

To obtain a copy of the May issue of the journal, which sells for $5, contact Claire Cirolia, circulation manager, Science Books & Films, 10th floor, 1101 Vermont Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.

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