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21 August 2013

Advanced Placement classes failing students - Stephanie Simon - POLITICO.com

Advanced Placement classes failing students - Stephanie Simon - POLITICO.com


Simon's article documents the degree to which taking an AP class alone does not translate into broad educational gains for many students in the United States. Most of this information about test results is necessarily novel, especially for those of us who are or have facilitated AP courses. There are a variety of factors-including increased accessibility and enrollment to these courses themselves-that explain the decline in passing rates for these exams in recent years. However, most staunch supporters for AP courses often point to the fact that the preparatory experience of the AP course itself is valuable for students themselves. Simon's article argues, however, that this is not the case. "Advocates often argue that students benefit from being exposed to the high expectations of an AP class, even if they don’t pass the test. Yet there’s no proof that’s true. In fact, taking an AP class does not lead to better grades in college, higher college graduation rates, or any other tangible benefit — unless the student does well enough to pass the AP test, said Trevor Packer, a senior vice president at the College Board." If the preparatory environment of an AP class only assists students who would have already passed the exams anyway, then the "treatment effect" of taking an AP course becomes irrelevant. While colleges and universities recognize the rigor that can be found in AP courses, exam results and classes themselves are not universally accepted for credit by institutions of higher education in the US. The most recent information published in Simon's article should giver further pause to the idea that simply taking as many AP classes as possible has tangible effects for students in the long run. 


In contrast, there are several published and ongoing studies (here, here, full list here) find that participation in International Baccalaureate coursework and the Diploma Program provides a broad range of students with opportunities for successful learning in the courses they take, as well as in their university studies beyond High School. Lewis (2012) suggests that the impact of globalization combined with the global cache of the International Baccalaureate Diploma allows students even more opportunities to pursue their higher educational interests, often, regardless of borders. In surveying 112 university admissions officers in the United States, United Kingdom and 14 different European Union states during 2011, Lewis reports that the number of applications to universities continue to increase; with this trend expected to continue for the foreseeable future. In the United States, 65% of university admissions officers surveyed report an increase in the number of applicants with IB Diplomas, leading Lewis to conclude that, “It is clear from the 2011 survey results that the IB Diploma is held in high regard by admissions officers across the UK, Europe and the US. 

There is no system of curriculum that is universally applicable to all students, in all environments, and at all times. However, Simon adds to the body of compelling evidence (here, here) that AP courses may not offer a meaningful vehicle for educational reform in the United States.