Monday, May 5, 2014

The So-Called Advanced Placement Student at the University or What Is the Value of AP Courses and Tests Anyway?

It’s that time of the year again. High school students across the nation are taking their Advanced Placement Tests so they can receive college credits. Indeed, to save college tuition is advantageous; however, sometimes not enrolling in general education classes, such as Composition 101, is disadvantageous for some students.

I taught high school seniors the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition course for several years before retiring. Currently, I teach former Advance Placement students who place out of the three-credit hour composition (or WRIT 101) course at Benedictine University. These students enroll in a one-credit hour symposium entitled WRIT 104. I have taught 16 sections, [as of December 2016].

Generally speaking, some of these students should never have been exempted from WRIT 101, despite their Advanced Placement score! Many of them lack critical reading, writing, listening, speaking and researching skills. Furthermore, they have graduated from high schools with diverse Advanced Placement Programs. Unfortunately, all Advanced Placement Programs are not created equal. 

Though we have several in-class and online discussions but only one formally-written persuasive essay (in a class that meets one hour per week), I have discovered that many of my students lack an understanding of the deeper, more symbolic meanings of a text as well as the ability to critically comprehend a complex essay in order to assess its relevance and rhetorical style in making an argument.

Some of my students cannot produce focused, insightful analyses. Moreover, some of them lack the necessary proficiency to evaluate the varying degrees of quality and authenticity in sources; to synthesize information that supports a purpose; and to integrate pertinent research in a coherent, well-supported argumentative essay. 

It is disappointing when some Advanced Placement students cannot distinguish between facts and opinions, relevant and irrelevant claims, or factual accuracy and fallacious reasoning. 

It is unacceptable when some Advanced Placement students do not demonstrate an understanding of the writing process by carefully proofreading their writing for errors and omissions of both form and substance; by revising and restructuring where ideas are poorly organized or where evidence is lacking; and by correcting for errors in syntax, usage, punctuation, spelling and style.

At $89 per test with an $8 rebate granted to the sponsoring school for each test taken at high schools across the nation, one might deduce that Advanced Placement testing is simply a corporate, multi-billion dollar enterprise without educational value. 

-Glen Brown

So What Is the Value of AP Courses and Tests? “High school rankings by popular media usually take into account how many students take AP exams. Some high schools push students to take AP courses whether or not they are prepared, just to satisfy the rankings. But are the AP courses an appropriate measure of high quality? 

“A few of the nation’s top private and public high schools have dropped the AP courses, on the belief that their teachers created better courses than the AP. [Click here and here for archives of two New York Times articles].

“A reader responded to an earlier post about the Tucson BASIS charter schools by questioning the value of AP courses and tests: ‘Here is the essence of what Tim Steller wrote about BASIS-Tuscon: ‘the Basis schools require students to take eight AP courses before graduation, take six AP tests and pass at least one…That naturally helps Basis place high in the U.S. News rankings…’ Steller adds this important point in his article about BASIS, made by an education consultant: ‘AP has pulled the wool over people’s eyes across the nation…’ 

“‘Actually, it’s the College Board that has ‘pulled the wool over people’s eyes.’ About AP, to be sure. But also about the SAT and PSAT, and Accuplacer, the placement test used by more than 60 percent of community colleges. They’re all mostly worthless, more hype than reality… 

“A 2002 National Research Council study of AP courses and tests found them to be a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’ and inconsistent with research-based principles of learning. A 2004 study by Geiser and Santelices found that ‘the best predictor of both first- and second-year college grades’ is un-weighted high school grade point average, and a high school grade point average ‘weighted with a full bonus point for AP…is invariably the worst predictor of college performance.’ 

“A 2005 study (Klopfenstein and Thomas) found AP students ‘…generally no more likely than non-AP students to return to school for a second year or to have higher first semester grades.’ Moreover, the authors wrote that ‘close inspection of the [College Board] studies cited reveals that the existing evidence regarding the benefits of AP experience is questionable,’ and ‘AP courses are not a necessary component of a rigorous curriculum.’

“A 2006 MIT faculty report noted ‘there is a growing body of research that students who earn top AP scores and place out of institute introductory courses end up having ‘difficulty’ when taking the next course.’ 

“Two years prior, Harvard ‘conducted a study that found students who are allowed to skip introductory courses because they have passed a supposedly equivalent AP course do worse in subsequent courses than students who took the introductory courses at Harvard’ (Seebach, 2004)… 

“Students know that AP is far more about gaming the college acceptance process than it is learning…

“The 2010 book ‘AP: A Critical Examination’ noted that ‘Students see AP courses on their transcripts as the ticket ensuring entry into the college of their choice,’ yet, ‘there is a shortage of evidence about the efficacy, cost, and value of these programs.’ And this: AP has become ‘the juggernaut of American high school education,’ but ‘the research evidence on its value is minimal.’

“As [Saul] Geiser* (2007) notes, ‘systematic differences in student motivation, academic preparation, family background and high-school quality account for much of the observed difference in college outcomes between AP and non-AP students...’ 

“Klopfenstein and Thomas (2010) find that when these demographic characteristics are controlled for, the claims made for AP disappear. Yet, the myths –– especially about AP, the SAT and PSAT –– endure. 

“Meanwhile, the College Board is promoting the Common Core and says it has ‘aligned’ (cough, wink) its products with it. And people believe it. Stopping corporate-style ‘reform and the Common Core is easier said than done. Parents, students and educators are going to have to remove the wool from over their eyes. And that means abandoning blind belief in the College Board and the products it peddles.’”

Quotations are from What Is the Value of AP Courses and Tests? (Diane Ravitch's Blog)

*“[In Geiser’s and Veronica Santelice’s 2004 study that] examine[d] the role of Advanced Placement (AP) and other honors-level courses as a criterion for admission at… the University of California, the number of AP and honors courses taken in high school bears little or no relationship to students’ later performance in college. AP is increasingly emphasized as a factor in admissions, particularly at selective colleges and universities. But while student performance on AP examinations is strongly related to college performance, merely taking AP or other honors-level courses in high school is not a valid indicator of the likelihood that students will perform well in college. These findings suggest that institutions may need to reconsider the use of AP as a criterion in admissions, particularly given the marked disparity in access to AP and honors courses among disadvantaged and underrepresented minority students” (The Role Of Advanced Placement And Honors Courses In College Admissions)].


  1. From Bob Lyons:

    Glen, I taught AP European History first to seniors, and then when the AP classes multiplied I made it a course for the best sophomores that were recommended by their freshman world history teacher. I took courses during the summer at Carleton College in teaching AP and found that the teachers of introductory English and also Economics that were sharp and honest recommended to their high school students to take the college introductory classes anyway, even if they gained a 4 or a 5 on the test.

    I was a grader for AP Europe and learned that the state of South Carolina was using the AP test as their improvement plan for education in the state. They gave their high schools state money based on the number of AP tests the schools administered. Every freshman in world history in the state was given the opportunity to take the AP European test without necessarily any specialized preparation.

    We would get essays that were terrible and simply say, “Another one from SC.” The College Board is a profit making business, and very good profit is made.


    I worked for the College Board for about ten years helping other high school teachers prepare or improve their European AP classes. I thought the AP European classes and the test were excellent and valid, but I retired twenty years ago and the number of AP courses was multiplying and has continue to expand.


  2. From Sig Lisowski:

    I point you to this link on Amazon:

    I have cited this report in other posts. It is VERY DIFFICULT to get a hold of, primarily because I believe it shows the inherent promotion of Eugenics and racial/cultural prejudice that was at the foundation of our "testing culture" and the company that started it all.

    I spent my entire career as a guidance counselor watching the cancerous growth of AP testing and testing in general. Growth due to various reasons, the education of the student being the last real reason.

    Glen's article above also cites many sources that question the value and use of AP testing with regards to college and the admission process. What is behind those questions are two testing terms (which you rarely see used nowadays) VALIDITY and RELIABILITY.

    I'm not going to go into testing and stats here, if you're interested, Google it.

    Glen cites the $8 rebate. This $8 may be considered a "kickback" in some circles. In my opinion, it is. When I was working, AP European History was being considered as a FRESHMAN course. All the experiences Glen cited were the gist of our department’s opposition to such a course offering. We even had to remind administration that you can't call a course AP unless it was from the company; they wanted to do that too.

    Just more reasons why education is failing to educate students but enriching corporations--bring on charter schools and Common Core---corporations need more money.