Laboratory science ("d")

Two units (equivalent to two years) of laboratory science are required (three units are strongly recommended), providing fundamental knowledge in two of the following disciplines:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Goals of the requirement

The overarching goal of the subject requirement in laboratory science is to ensure that entering college freshmen are adequately prepared to undertake university-level study in any scientific or science-related discipline. The term “laboratory” is intended to signify an empirical basis of the subject matter, as well as inclusion of a substantial experimental and/or observational activity in the course design. The requirement emphasizes biology/life sciences, chemistry and physics because these subjects are preparatory to university-level study in all science-based disciplines. However, coverage of these foundational subjects in suitable breadth and depth can potentially be found in a wide range of science courses, including those with an interdisciplinary, engineering or a career technical education focus, provided the courses conform to the criteria described in the Course Criteria & Guidance section below.

All courses approved in the laboratory science subject area should be designed with the explicit intention of developing and encouraging scientific habits of mind important for university-level studies, and aligned with the eight practices of science and engineering identified by the National Research Council Framework and detailed within the Next Generation Science Standards:

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering). Students should develop a perception of science or engineering as a way of understanding the world around them, not as a collection of theories and definitions to be memorized.

  2. Developing and using models. Students should understand that scientific models are useful to represent phenomena in the physical world, and should routinely develop or use multiple representations and models to solve scientific problems and to communicate science concepts. They should appreciate that models and theories are valuable only when rigorously tested against observation.

  3. Planning and carrying out investigations. Students should emerge from high school embracing an ease in using their scientific knowledge to perceive patterns and regularity, make predictions, and test those predictions against evidence and reason.

  4. Analyzing and interpreting data. This includes developing and maintaining openness to using technological tools appropriately, including graphing calculators and computers, in gathering and analyzing data. Students should be aware of the limitations of these tools, and should be capable of effectively using them while making sound judgments about when such tools are and are not useful.

  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking. In particular, students should recognize that measurements and observations are subject to variability and error, and that these must be accounted for in a quantitative way when assessing the relationship between observation and theory.

  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering). Students should recognize that abstraction and generalization are important sources of the power of science.

  7. Engaging in argument from evidence. Students should understand that assertions require justification based on evidence and logic, and should develop an ability to supply appropriate justifications for their assertions. They should habitually ask “Why?” and “How do I know?”

  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. Student should be able to read a variety of domain-specific scientific and technical texts and to write using the language conventions of scientific discourse, including but not limited to laboratory reports. Useful guidelines for promoting scientific literacy can be found in the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects [PDF].

Course criteria & guidance

Beginning with the 2015-16 submission period, the following course criteria is effective for courses seeking approval in the laboratory science ("d") subject area:

Regardless of the scientific subject, all courses approved for the "d" subject area are expected to satisfy these criteria:

  1. Courses will be consistent with and illustrate the goals described above. Courses that integrate these eight practices of science and engineering with course content will be taking a substantial step toward achieving these goals.

  2. Courses will provide rigorous, in-depth treatments of the conceptual foundations of the scientific subject studied based on the appropriate underlying biological, chemical and physical principles.

  3. Courses will afford students opportunities to participate in all phases of the scientific process, including formulation of well-posed scientific questions and hypotheses, design of experiments and/or data collection strategies, analysis of data, and drawing of conclusions. They will also require students to discuss scientific ideas with other students, differentiate observations from interpretations, engage in critical thinking and write clearly and coherently on scientific topics.

  4. Courses will specify, at a minimum, elementary algebra as a prerequisite or co-requisite, and will employ quantitative reasoning and methods wherever appropriate.

  5. Courses will include teacher-supervised, hands-on laboratory activities that are directly related to, and support, the other class work, and that involve inquiry, observation, analysis and write-up. These hands-on inquiry-based activities will constitute a significant portion of the instruction and account for at least 20 percent of class time. Hands-on laboratory activities must explicitly address safe and ethical practices with respect to experimenters, society and the environment.

  6. Courses will be explicit about the formative and summative assessment practices that will be used throughout to assess student development of deep content understanding as well as mastery of scientific practices and skills. Courses will include a variety of assessments to ensure the teacher is able to determine that the course learning objectives have been met, as well as challenge students to defend their ideas and conclusions and demonstrate higher-order thinking skills. These measures could include, but are not limited to, multiple choice, short answer, laboratory reports, essay, projects, poster presentations and videos.

  7. Courses will include culturally relevant topics and activities, real-world problems and applications that are appropriate for the context of the school community and the course content. The activities should be aimed at engaging all students in science learning and understanding the role of science in their lives.

  8. Courses will include the use of technology to increase access and computer-based skills for students. This could include visualization programs that provide scientific animations and 3-dimensional modeling; data collection and analysis tools; graphing calculators and other tools for mathematical representations; a variety of digital tools for encouraging multiple verbal and visual representations of scientific phenomena; and computer coding exercises. Courses that give students the opportunities to experience learning in evidence-based, non-traditional ways such as a flipped classroom are encouraged.

  9. The content for biology/life sciences, chemistry and physics courses in grades 9 through 12 will generally be drawn from the Science Content Standards for California Public Schools [PDF], the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects [PDF]. For success in college, secondary science teachers should help students learn to assimilate the major ideas and principles that encompass the standards rather than explore the breadth of all the standards. Equally important to the topics covered, or to the skills directly used in class, are the more general abilities and attitudes gained through the effort of mastering the course content. These general abilities and attitudes are outlined in the goals section above.

Sample courses

Samples of courses approved in the “d” subject area are available for reference as you prepare your own course for UC approval.


Other options for satisfying the “d” subject requirement

UC-transferable college courses or satisfactory scores on SAT Subject, AP or IB exams can also be used to fulfill the laboratory science subject requirement.