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Are AP Classes Worth It?
posted by: Cindy Omlin | May 17, 2013, 02:50 AM   

As higher education becomes increasingly competitive and expensive, students often opt to take Advance Placement (AP) classes in high school to obtain an edge. These classes allow students to earn college credit via a rigorous standardized test and high-level course. Since the program’s inception in 1955 the AP program has claimed to narrow the achievement gap, prepare students for college, and give students a head start on college credits.

With just 58% of college students earning a Bachelor’s degree in six years, many high school students jump at the opportunity to take AP classes. However, recent data presented by critics asserts that the AP system is overrated, emphasizes rote memorization, and does not adequately compare to a college class.

Last October, Dartmouth University modified their AP policy to no longer allow AP credits to go towards graduation. While the school still values AP classes on students transcripts, the faculty believes that “AP exam scores are not a substitute for a Dartmouth undergraduate class,” according to Michael Mastanduno, a dean at the university. 

recent study by the Stanford Graduate School of Education reviewed over 20 studies on the AP Program. One of the key findings of these studies was the ample amount of evidence that showed reform initiatives, like the National Math and Science Initiative, professional development for teachers, tutoring, accountability, and evaluations, in conjunction with AP classes did narrow the achievement gap.  While students have the potential to do better in perfect circumstances, researchers couldn’t prove AP classes spelled success in the long run. 

However, as with most well-intentioned initiatives, when implemented without the proper oversight, AP courses do not contribute to students’ academic success.  A school must consider its resources and the cost and benefits of implementing AP programs. 

Another key finding was the trend of students who took AP classes doing better in college. While researchers caution that correlation is not causation, at the very least, students who take AP classes in high school, succeed at the same class on a college level. 

The co-author of the study, Denise Pope, gives three suggestions for educators who are considering teaching AP classes or are already teaching them:

1.    Consider the level of readiness and preparation at your school.
Do students and teachers have the background and support necessary to succeed? Are students in an AP program likely to thrive without the program being too big of a drain on the non-AP students? Think carefully about whether it might be a better allocation of resources to invest in improving all existing classes and working with teachers to differentiate instruction for all learners.

2.    Invite students (and their parents) interested in AP courses to attend an AP information session that provides an overview of your school's program.

3.    Don't confuse AP rigor with load. We have seen several successful teachers who can curb the homework load in their AP courses without sacrificing test scores. 

Do you think AP classes are a worthy endeavor? Have you taught these classes?

Comment below.


Originally posted by Ruthie at AAE.

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