Psychology Gets Voluntary National Standards

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — January 12, 2000 2 min read

In an attempt to bring conformity to high school psychology courses that are “vastly different in content and level of challenge,” a task force sponsored by the American Psychological Association has released voluntary national standards for what students should be taught in the subject.


The report can be obtained by calling the APA Education Directorate at (202) 336-6076. It is also available online at

The standards, written over the past four years by a group of psychologists and psychology teachers, are intended to help teachers develop curricula that provide a more comprehensive introduction to the study of behavior and mental processes.

“With this document, teachers are now provided with the information they need to create balanced lesson plans that represent all the domains of psychology,” said Laura L. Maitland, a teacher at Mepham High School in Bellmore, N.Y., and the chairwoman of the task force.

High school psychology courses, which are generally offered as electives, enroll at least 800,000 students a year. They often vary in structure and content, the task force found. With connections to both the social and natural sciences, psychology may be taught as a social studies or science course. In the context of social studies, the curriculum often emphasizes history, personality, and social psychology. In science programs, the focus is typically on biological bases of behavior, sensation and perception, and learning.

Integrating the Sciences

The national standards recommend that secondary-level psychology courses integrate the natural and social sciences, and include the examination of ethical scientific inquiry and the critical analysis of research methods. The report also suggests a range of activities to be incorporated into the curriculum, including research projects, community service, and other methods of increasing students’ understanding of behavior.

It recommends that the curriculum encompass the five content areas of psychology:

  • Methods, or the science of psychology, its history, and ways of examining behavior and mental processes;
  • Biopsychological, or how the brain processes information, how the body responds and adapts to environmental demands, and human motivation and emotion;
  • Cognitive, including the effect of experience on behavior, memory, thinking and language, and states of consciousness;
  • Developmental, or how nature and nurture influence development; and
  • Sociocultural, pertaining to individual differences, personality development, psychological disorders and their treatment, and social and cultural dimensions of behavior.

The report includes content standards, as well as performance standards and indicators.

A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2000 edition of Education Week as Psychology Gets Voluntary National Standards


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