Researchers question value of AP courses as exam participation rises
- Suneal Kolluri of the University of Southern California analyzed over 50 studies of Advanced Placement (AP) tests and courses in a recently released report examining the rate of expansion of the courses, their pass rates, and how well they are preparing students for college classes, Chalkbeat reports.
- The number of students taking an AP exam has increased from 820,000 in 2001 to more than 2.6 million in 2017. However, only about 30% of black AP students pass the exams compared with 42% of Hispanic students and 64% of white students.
- While some studies suggest that students who score well on AP exams perform better in college, there is almost no research indicating that AP courses are the cause of those increases; in fact, a study of Texas students indicated that students who took similarly hard classes in high school did just as well.
AP courses have been the subject of several recent studies. The courses have enjoyed wide acceptance in schools and many states have specific policies governing their implementation in schools. Some schools, especially those in rural districts, see online AP courses as a solid option for providing more rigorous high school courses and offering students a chance to earn college credit. However, some schools in areas that offer broader resources are dropping AP courses from the curriculum, a move that others argue is a costly mistake. In the midst of this debate, the College Board is launching a new set of pre-AP classes for 9th grade this fall.
AP courses offer both advantages and disadvantages. One of the often-cited positives is that students who pass the exams may earn college credit. However, considering the pass rate of the exams, the college credit is not a given. In recent years, more pathways toward college credit have emerged. Some options, like dual enrollment courses and early college programs, don’t require the use of exams to gain college credit. Instead, students making a certain grade will receive college credit at select colleges through articulation agreements. Other programs, such as the International Baccalaureate and the Cambridge curriculum, offer other options for rigorous coursework as well and are gaining more attention in recent days.
AP courses, however, still can provide value to schools, especially if they are used effectively and with sufficient teacher training. AP courses may also be able to provide a way to help level the playing field for low-income students, if they are implemented correctly. In a similar 2013 Stanford study of the AP issue, researcher Denise Pope recommended blending classes with AP and non-AP students. When an AP course is offered separately, then "you’re not allowing students to learn from everyone, you’re isolating and giving, likely, better resources to a fewer number of students. AP classes will be smaller, for example, and they are often staffed by more experienced teachers," she wrote. "You could actually be creating more disparities in that kind of situation."