NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Advanced-Placement Courses Need Improvement, Study Finds

February 15, 2002

Each year, hundreds of thousands of high school students take either the College Board's Advanced Placement courses or a program offered by the International Baccalaureate Organization. Their aims are to receive college credits, skip introductory courses in college or impress admissions officials.

Selective colleges use students' enrollment in those programs as an indicator of whether applicants have taken the most challenging courses available to them.

But a newly released study is highly critical of the math and science courses in those curricula and the way they are taught. The study was commissioned by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.

  • It chastises the courses for cramming in too much material at the expense of understanding.
  • Many of the courses, it says, were taught by educators who did not even have bachelor's degrees in the given field.
  • Courses in biology and chemistry had generally failed to keep pace with developments in their disciplines.
  • It charges that many students were poorly prepared before they started the courses -- some having skipped intermediate preparatory courses so that they could squeeze advanced-placement courses into their high school transcripts.

The criticisms do not extend to courses in English and history -- which were not part of the review.

While the study acknowledged that the course do benefit students who take them, it warned that there is an urgent need for many improvements.

Source: Karen W. Arenson, "Study Faults Advanced-Placement Courses," New York Times, February 15, 2002; based on "Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools," National Research Council, 2002.


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