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Advanced Placement Effectiveness Challenged

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
May 1, 2009

A new survey indicates that teachers of Advanced Placement courses are concerned that increased numbers of enrolled students-many of them unprepared for the more rigorous study--may diminish the quality of the classes.

The survey was conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education research and advocacy organization, and included feedback from more than 1,000 AP instructors in American high schools. U.S. News & World Report says that according to the study, 1.6 million high school teens took 2.7 million AP tests in 2008-45 percent more than in 2004.

AP exams are offered by the College Board, which administers the SAT. According to the organization's web site, AP courses allow students to "earn college credit and advanced placement, stand out in the admissions process, and learn from some of the most skilled, dedicated, and inspiring teachers in the world."

The study, however, sheds light on some drawbacks of the popular exams. Although teachers were generally satisfied with the quality of the program, many suggested that the rigor of AP courses is being threatened by overly generous school policies allowing any student to enroll. WTOP in Washington notes that 69 percent of the teachers said that their schools' AP classes were open to all students. Moreover, The New York Times reports that about 75 percent of the teachers said that school administrators were expanding AP courses in order "to improve their school's ranking and reputation in the community."

Only 32 percent attributed the popularity of AP courses to more students who want to learn at a higher academic level, while 90 percent responded that the allure of AP is due to "more students who want their college applications to look better." More than half of the teachers polled felt that too many students enrolled in AP courses were ill-suited for the more demanding academics. And more than 60 percent said that limiting enrollment to those students who are qualified would ultimately improve the AP program.

Trevor Packer, vice president of the College Board, said he welcomed the report, noting that the data didn't indicate that average scores on AP exams have risen or dropped as more students participate. Nevertheless, he said, it's important to consider at what point quality will decline if students aren't better prepared for the courses.

"We're really excited about the questions the report asks," he said, "and the answers it's found to date, but more important, the way this situates the discourse for future conversations."

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