AP participation, performance reach new highs
Seniors in the class of 2018 took 4.22 million exams — a 65% jump over the past decade — and were more likely to persist when faced with harder material.
Registration for Advanced Placement (AP) exams will move to Nov. 15 beginning this fall — instead of the traditional spring date — based on the results of a pilot program showing that fall registration especially increases the rate of low-income and minority students earning a score of three or higher, the College Board announced today.
“This simple move of shifting the registration date to the fall sped up the work of AP equity by seven years,” Trevor Packer, senior vice president of the AP program, said on a press call Tuesday.
The change, which will be accompanied by an array of new instructional resources available to AP teachers and students, comes as results show that more than 1.24 million seniors in the class of 2018 took a total of 4.22 million exams — an increase of 65% over the past 10 years. Over that same time period, the percentage of students earning a three or higher — the score needed to earn college credit — has increased by 63%.
Even with those results, however, David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, said there are “thousands and thousands of students” who have the ability to earn a three or higher but give in to the “forces of self-discouragement.”
Working 'toward a common goal'
The College Board conducted the registration pilot after hearing that roughly 50% of high schools — about 9,000 nationwide — were already moving their registration dates to the fall.
The initial 2017-18 pilot involved 40,000 students from 100 schools. A second, nationally representative study of 800 schools and 180,000 students was conducted this school year and showed that moving the date boosted the number of underserved minority students registering for the exam by 14.2%, compared to an increase of 2.4% during the spring of 2018.
The pilot showed that teachers began to view all of their students as having the potential to earn college credit instead of just those who signed up for the exam in the spring, Packer said.
Meg Shadid, who teaches AP World History and AP Economics courses at Edmond Santa Fe High School in Edmond, Oklahoma, said on the call that having students register for the exam early led to having a less “discombobulated” class in which some students planned to take the test and others didn’t.
“It really helped us to all work toward a common goal together,” she said.
The pilot also showed that students were more likely to persist when they encountered more challenging material in the course. “It calls them to throw themselves into the work,” Coleman said.
Finally, students became more selective in choosing AP courses instead of registering for multiple courses to impress college admissions officers, Packer said.
The College Board will also turn the $40 fee that students have traditionally paid for a make-up exam into a late fee for students who decide after Nov. 15 to register for the exam or a cancellation fee for those who change their mind after registering.
The new structure "encourages students to commit to college-level courses and exams earlier in the year," Maria Alcon-Heraux, director of media relations for the College Board, said in an email. "This change represents a shift toward fees that serve a meaningful purpose — assisting more students to earn the college credit they deserve."
Students will still pay the exam fee of $94 in the spring. Exam fees are usually subsidized for students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Participation among low-income students has increased, from representing about 16.5% of all exam takers 2008 to making up more than 30% last year.
“We’re creating a new normal in AP,” Coleman said, adding that the traditional approach of separating the course from the exam registration “has not been helpful.” Ideally, he said, the College Board wouldn’t collect any late fees, and Alcon-Heraux said that, based on the pilot, they are expecting less than 1% of exams to result in a late fee.
The package of resources
The College Board is spending $80 million on the new package of instructional resources, Coleman said, which represents the largest investment the organization has ever put into the program. Available Aug. 1, the package of free materials includes unit guides showing exactly what will be covered on the exam, online “progress check” assessments that teachers can assign to students so they know how they’re progressing through the course, a progress dashboard and an AP question bank.
The question bank will include 15,000 exam questions teachers can use for homework assignments and quizzes, giving students practice with the types of questions they’ll see on the actual exam.
“This is especially important for students whose AP teachers are brand new,” Packer said.
Coleman also described the new resources as a “love letter” to teachers in rural areas who are often the only ones in their school teaching AP courses.
The new materials also come as recent research has shown that while students who earn AP credits in high school are more likely to take higher-level courses in college and save money on college loan debt, less than 8% of beginning college students enter with AP credit.
Coleman added that policies ensuring students who earn at least a three will be guaranteed credit at a state university also have "remarkably strong effects" on students deciding whether to take AP courses and exams. Over the past five years, the number of states with such policies has increased from 14 to 29.
Large jump in AP computer science participation
Other 2018 results show that since the AP computer science course was introduced in 2016, the percentage of students taking the course has increased 135%, and the number of students from underrepresented groups, including females, those in rural areas and those from minority groups, has more than doubled.
Among black students, for example, there was a 70% increase in taking the AP Computer Science Principles exam between 2017 and 2018, and a 61% increase in scores of three or higher.
In state results, Massachusetts had the highest percentage of students taking AP exams and scoring a three or higher — almost 33%. In the District of Columbia, schools had the highest one-, three- and five-year increases in students scoring three or higher on exams. Other states with "strong, sustained growth" include California, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
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