- Students who accumulate Advanced Placement (AP) credits in high school take higher-level courses in college and are more likely to earn a double major, according to a study appearing this month in the American Educational Research Journal. In addition, Pell Grant recipients are especially more likely to earn their degrees in a shorter length of time.
- Conducted by Brent Evans, a higher education professor at Vanderbilt University, the study, based on data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, also shows that students with at least 10 AP credits also spend about $1,000 less in repaying student loan debt, “likely driven by reduced time to degree,” Evans writes.
- Evans notes, however, that less than 8% of beginning college students enter with AP credit, that these tend to be “more academically and socioeconomically advantaged” students, and that it’s unclear if the results would be the same if AP credits were spread to a “wider swatch of the college-going population.” Even so, the results, he said, confirm students benefit from earning college credit while in high school, and that when deciding on their schedules, students should consider whether a course could provide college credit.
Districts have greatly expanded students’ access to AP courses in recent years — both by adding more course options and by encouraging a more diverse mix of students to enroll. In February, the College Board reported that more than 1 million students took almost 4 million AP exams in 2017, compared to less than 700,000 in 2007. In addition, more than 700,000 students scored at least a 3 on one or more exams, compared to about 420,000 students in 2007. And for AP Computer Science specifically, there were significant increases in girls, students of color and students in rural areas taking the course.
In recent years, states have received funding from the federal government to help cover the costs of taking AP exams for students from low-income families. And while just taking AP courses gives students access to more advanced material, it’s the passing score that allows them to reap the benefits Evans discusses in the paper.
Last year, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the results of a survey of teachers participating in Mass Insight Education’s Mass Math + Science Initiative, which aims to increase participation in STEM AP courses among “traditionally underserved” students and to increase teachers’ effectiveness in those courses.
Offering and encouraging students to attend study sessions and encouraging students to retake exams were a few of the ways that schools tried to boost performance among underserved students, but teachers said they also need more ways to support such students. They also found “content-specific professional development,” to be helpful in improving their teaching.
In addition, a brief from The Education Trust highlighted strategies used to help students in high-poverty schools be successful in AP courses, such as hiring teachers who are strong in their subject matter who can move into AP teaching positions and incorporating problem-solving and critical-thinking skills into all courses to help prepare students for AP content.
Finally, in at least one state, AP teachers are also getting a financial boost if their students pass their exams. Under a 2016 law, Arizona teachers can earn bonuses for every student who passes. While the policy is not without controversy, it was meant to encourage more schools to offer AP courses.