Not-so-advanced placement

Fearing that some classes with the Advanced Placement label aren’t really advanced, College Board plans to check syllabi, sample assignments and sample exams. AP classes are supposed to reflect college-level work and look good on a high school transcript.

“Administrators are under pressure to create advanced-type classes. Parents want them. Policy-makers want them. If I’m being told to teach Advance Placement, I can put AP in front of any course name,” said Jim Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. “Of course, it’s more than simply adding the name, and that’s where the College Board is crying foul.”

Fewer than 40 percent of AP students take the AP exam in the spring; of those who take the test, only about half earn a high enough score to qualify for college credit. Eduguestwonk suggests requiring all AP students to take the exam. (That was the rule for at least one of my daughter’s AP classes.)

It’s no shame to fail: for kids, they learn what college rigor is really like; for schools, teachers work together using the AP data to make adjustments on how to improve their classes.

And then schools with repeatedly low test-taking rates and low scores could be audited by College Board.

The exam is expensive, but there are fee waivers for low-income students — and the chance to save a bundle on college tuition by earning credits in high school.

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  1. A cheaper approach is for the state to write the exam and hire a consultant to ensure that the test aligns with the AP course objectives. In fact the state should be done in all core college prep ourses.

    A big issue in AP science courses (my wife teaches AP/IB chemistry) is getting enought class time for labs.

    There is also a huge disparity in the course content and level of achievement required to pass different AP exams. AP English may be equivalent to 3 semester hours while AP Chemistry may be equivalent to 6-8 semster hours.

    Finally, most students are accepted into college before taking AP tests, so these courses are affected by senioritis.

    For many school districts and students, a better option than AP courses is to have these students enroll in college courses their senior year.

  2. I took AP Calculus in high school. I had a great teacher and more than 75% of the class made passing grades. When I got to college the students from my high school found college math classes to be easier than AP Calculus. AP classes are great if you have good teachers and good tests. Mrs. Tarter truly prepared me for college. If every AP class had a teacher like her then our public schools would be much better. By the way my high school offered so many AP classes you had to take some of them your junior year if you wanted to take all of them. The AP test was only $76 when I took it. You could take every AP class offered and still come out cheaper than one class in college.

  3. CRW said:

    “A cheaper approach is for the state to write the exam and hire a consultant to ensure that the test aligns with the AP course objectives.”

    Problem is, the consultant is paid by the state, and who would watch the state? Don’t know about you, but I’m a bit sceptical about the state’s ability to do much without making a mess of it.

  4. Nels Nelson says:

    I don’t quite follow the connection that is being made between the courses and the tests, as when I went to school they were understood to be separate. Our school was too small to offer many AP classes, but those of us who wanted the college credit worked through some practice books with a teacher and took the tests at the end of the year; American History is American History, whether taught in a general or an AP class. On the other hand, the school offered only one computer class – AP Computer Science – and a large number of its students weren’t going to college, and therefore had no reason to take the test. Why they should have been required to do so, I don’t understand.

    If a student wants college credit, he takes the AP test; if not, it’s just a class and a grade on his transcript. One doesn’t need to have attended high school to take the SAT, and likewise not all high school students should be required to take the SAT.

  5. The problem isn’t so much senioritis as knowing where you’re going to school. If you know already that the college you’re going to attend does not give credit for AP Calc, but your high school requires you to take it, there’s going to be a showdown, as there was at my high school. No senior wants to lose a hundred dollars and three hours, just for an entirely meaningless test.

  6. I also don’t see the necessity of requiring AP tests. AP is an elective program for those who want a leg up either in college admissions or college placement; so it’s not clear to me why class enrollment to test-taking ratios should be used as an indicator of its success when its purpose is neither to get every high school student to take the tests, nor to have them all get 4’s and 5’s. It’s not a NCLB-related program that requires universal pass rates. APs are graded on a curve.

    Moreover, more and more top universities are not accepting AP credits, or putting a cap on how much credit they’ll accept because they stand to lose tuition money when almost their students come in with two years of coursework theoretically completed via AP. Mandating AP tests is just not practical.

    The use of the AP class : AP test ratio for ranking high schools however–this is an interesting question.

  7. I have not only taught AP Calculus for over 10 years, I am a consultant to the College Board and work with them quite a bit. The discussion among AP Calculus teachers on whether or not to force the kids to take the test is at times a lively one. Some schools require all kids to take the test in order to get AP designation on their transcript; others say that the decision should be left up to the kids. If kids are forced to take the test, often they know that they have no chance to pass and don’t even try. If they are not forced to, many choose not to for various reasons. Personally, I think the decision should be up to the student, but as a teacher I will strongly recommend it.

    As far as the reasoning behind offering AP courses – colleges know that the rigor in the curriculum used by AP is adequately preparing students for college level work; any other course labelled “college prep” is subject to the designer’s view of what college prep really is. This is why the College Board wants to make sure that those who claim to be teaching AP really are teaching AP. Another thing to consider…colleges have been surveyed to determine which pieces of information prospective students provide are most strongly considered when deciding on admission….#1 in the survey was the number of AP courses the student has on their transcript. Class rank and SAT score are important, but the student with more AP will beat out the kid with little or no AP. I have talked to teachers and found this to be true. Colleges have input on what the AP curriculum covers, and they know it is what they want to see their future students be able to do.

  8. I have been talking with my acquaintances and friends who are college professors about the usefulness of AP exams. The historians don’t particularly care for the history courses (US, European, and World History). The content of the courses doesn’t match how those courses are taught at the collegiate level. The literature professor I spoke with was only familiar with the lit & composition class, and didn’t much care for it either.

    One comment: few college-level courses have a single test at the end of a two-semester teaching period.

    Another comment: the humanities AP favor rote memorization over subtle understanding of underlying themes.

    Unexpected consequence: many professors teaching US History are now assuming that all their students have taken the AP US History course.

    The situation in math and sciences may well be different.