NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Advanced Placement Tests

April 17, 2002

The College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) tests -- designed to give college credits for advanced high school classes -- were viewed as a way for parents, colleges and taxpayers to control college costs. But even as use of AP tests grows, many educators now worry that the tests are offered in schools without rigorous preparation for teachers and students, and therefore class work is being watered down.

  • Since 1990, as more high schools realized AP tests smoothed college entry for a wide variety of students, the program has nearly tripled nationwide.
  • Next month more than 900,000 students will take one or more exams in subjects like American history, calculus, biology, geography and statistics.
  • Those who do well on the exams may earn college credit or skip introductory college courses.
  • But with many of their applicants now taking 10 or more AP courses, selective universities are increasingly reluctant to grant college credit.

Harvard University decided to award college credit only to students who achieved the top score, 5, on the exams after finding students in second-year chemistry and economics classes who placed out of first year courses with a 4 did less well than those who took the introductory college course. Meanwhile, a report from the National Research Council criticized the AP math and science curricula for emphasizing breadth over depth -- and found many teachers lack even a bachelor's degree in the subject they teach.

Nevertheless, there is a strong consensus that high school students benefit from demanding courses, and Department of Education research shows taking challenging classes is the best predictor of a student's college achievement.

Source: Tamar Lewin, "Questions for Advanced Placement," New York Times, April 17, 2002.


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