AP for all: Who benefits?
Expanding access to AP classes is supposed to help disadvantaged students prepare for college, but pass rates are very low. Is expanding AP helping low-income, minority students — or merely expanding revenue to College Board, which runs the program, asks Alina Tugend in the New York Times Magazine.
AP enrollment doubled from 2006 to 2016, helped by increased federal funding and a huge push to offer more AP classes in more schools, writes Tugend.
Most colleges give academic credit for a 4 (B) or 5 (A) on the AP exam; some will give credit for a 3 (C). Over the past two decades, “the percentage of students scoring 1 has grown to 19 percent from 12 percent,” writes Tugend.
Nationwide, more than 70 percent of black AP test-takers and 57 percent of Hispanics failed the exam. Overall, the failure rate was 42 percent.
Laura Fuchs teaches AP U.S. Government at an open-enrollment Washington, D.C. high school. The class meets for 85 minutes daily. “I’ve got five to six kids reading on grade level, and three of those don’t show up,” she said. “The rest are significantly below grade level.” Typically, only or two students will score a 3 or higher.
It’s not clear that taking an AP course helps students do better in college, writes Tugend.
Too often, says (Kristin) Klopfenstein, of the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab, research confuses correlation with causation; highly motivated students tend to take more AP classes, and they also tend to do better in college and graduate on time. But once all the variables, like parental education and income, are stripped away, there is no indication that those who take APs do better in college.
Some believe that students who earn a 1 or 2 do better than those who never tried an AP course. But the research is unclear, writes Tugend. In addition, there are drawbacks to placing unprepared, unmotivated students in AP classes.
“Before it was very selective, and now it has gone too far the other way,” says Carlos Veciana, an A.P. teacher in a Miami-Dade charter school. “Now you put 30 kids in a classroom, and 15 have no business being there. And the kids who don’t want to be there, they become disruptive.”
College Board is beefing up support services, writes Tugend. “Khan Academy, an online nonprofit, to offer free test-preparation and course materials for teachers and students.”
Calid Shorter earned a 5, the equivalent of an A, on his AP U.S. Government exam. Only one classmate earned a passing score.
Some high schools are creating pre-AP classes as an on-ramp to more rigorous work. Klopfenstein proposes creating prep classes that teach note-taking, outlining and organization.
Calid Shorter, 17, who was in Fuchs’s AP government class this past year, makes the case for rigor: “Pushing me into classes has been a benefit — it’s given me more of a go-getter mind-set.”
Fuchs’ students earned 20 1s, four 2s, one 3 and one 5, writes Teugend. Calid Shorter, who’d failed four other AP exams, aced AP government. “That’s the only one I truly studied for,” he told the reporter. It interested him. He’s now a first-year student at Sewanee, the University of the South, near Knoxville, Tenn.