The Advanced Placement (AP) program is a curriculum in the United States and Canada sponsored by the College Board which offers standardized courses to high school students that are generally recognized to be equivalent to undergraduate courses in college. Participating colleges grant credit to students who obtained high enough scores on the exams.
Enrollment for girls and boys in advanced placement classes for all areas of mathematics and chemistry is approximately the same. Unfortunately, these high enrollment rates are not reflected in advanced placement testing. Fewer girls than boys choose to take the advanced placement tests, and when they do, they score lower than boys.
About 60 percent of high schools in the nation offer at least one AP class. High schools with 75 to 100 percent minority concentrations offer 30 percent fewer AP courses than high schools with 10 percent or fewer minorities. Also, AP courses are far more expensive to operate than regular high school classes, due to higher teacher salaries, smaller class sizes and the higher cost of materials.
But when [teachers] were asked to explain the growing allure of A.P. classes and tests, 90 percent attributed it largely to “more students who want their college applications to look better.”
“Only 32 percent attribute A.P. growth to more students who want to be challenged at a higher academic level,” the researchers wrote, leading the authors to conclude that students were often enrolling in Advanced Placement courses “for utilitarian or pragmatic reasons, not intellectual aspirations.”
The college academic record of the AP students was superior to that of the matched non-AP group. Compared to classmates of the same ability, the AP students were more likely to maintain a B average in the freshman year (59 percent vs. 44 percent) and more likely to graduate with academic honors (40 percent vs. 33 percent). The AP students exceeded the matched non-AP group in both college honors and departmental honors.
In most schools, research shows, AP is providing new dividends. Philip M. Sadler of Harvard, Robert H. Tai of the University of Virginia, and other scholars also writing in AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program conclude AP courses on average have more experienced teachers and better lab work than regular courses. High-school students who take AP science courses are more likely to earn science degrees in college.
A number of prior research analyses have established a predictive relationship at the individual student level between Advanced Placement and college readiness and success measures.12 The willingness of a student to enroll in an Advanced Placement course and take an AP exam conveys information about that student that predicts that the student is more likely to graduate from college.
Research has shown that students who pass AP exams are more likely to graduate from college than students who do not take the advanced courses. Students who post a 1 or 2 on the tests are more inclined to stay in college a second year, but there is no evidence they are more likely to graduate.
The AP Program consists of 34 course offerings across six academic disciplines: Arts, English Language Arts, History and the Social Sciences, Mathematics, Science, and World Languages. AP thus provides flexibility for students to construct a well-balanced program in the arts, sciences and humanities that will both meet their interests and offer a strong foundation for future studies.
As A.P. has proliferated, spreading to more than 30 subjects with 1.8 million students taking 3.2 million tests, the program has won praise for giving students an early chance at more challenging work. But many of the courses, particularly in the sciences and history, have also been criticized for overwhelming students with facts to memorize and then rushing through important topics.
An analysis of nearly 771,000 graduates with AP potential found that nearly 478,000 (62 percent) did not take a recommended AP subject. Underserved minorities appear to be disproportionately impacted: 74 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students, 80 percent of black/African American students, and 70 percent of Hispanic/Latino students did not take the recommended AP subject.