In Brief

APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS) recently revised its publication on national standards for high school psychology curricula to include more materials on ethnic and cultural diversity and to take into account recent scientific advances, particularly in cognition and memory areas.

The standards, first adopted by APA in 1999, serve as a road map for high school psychology teachers or others responsible for the development of psychology curricula at the secondary school level. The standards emphasize the scientific basis of psychology and are divided into five domains-methods, biopsychological, developmental, cognitive, and individual and group behavior. Content and performance standards guide teachers in designing instruction. The standards include sample lesson plans, learning objectives and recommendations for student learning assessment.

The revised standards include greater diversity of gender, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation, says Amy Fineburg, past-chair of TOPSS and a psychology teacher at Spain Park High School in Birmingham, Ala. For example, a section about lifespan development now addresses issues related to aging and a section on the treatment of psychological disorders now addresses multicultural competence.

"We wanted to make sure all those different areas were reflected in the standards to reflect the current thinking and trends in the field," Fineburg says.

Other changes include:

  • Updating the cognitive psychology domain, particularly the memory area, which includes standards on encoding and on sensory, working and long-term memory. For example, the revised standards now include information on the processes that lead to memory inaccuracies.

  • Changing the document name from the "National Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology" to the "National Standards for High School Psychology Curricula," since the standards were created to provide guidelines on psychology curricula, not teaching, per se.

  • Shifting two of the standard areas-individual differences, and personality and assessment-from the sociocultural domain to the cognitive and developmental domains, respectively.

  • Renaming the original "clinical and sociocultural" domain. TOPPS members believe the new name, "variations in individual and group behavior," better reflects the domain's content.

Two consecutive TOPSS Task Forces on High School Standards-each made up of three high school teachers and one college faculty representative-were charged with revising the standards. The revision process began in 2001 when task force members solicited recommendations from APA directorates, boards, divisions and committees and from experts in each of the domain areas.

"The standards keep high school psychology from becoming a self-help course or mental hygiene course and more of a reflection of what psychology is," Fineburg says.

TOPSS, which plans to revise the standards on a seven-year cycle, will begin requesting comments from APA divisions and organizations this fall for its next revision of the standards.

For other updates to the document and a listing of the task force members who updated them, visit TOPPS Standards.

- M. Dittmann Tracey