“What Does Research Say About AP Courses”: More AP Accountabaloney

The Florida Education Accountability system incentivizes student enrollment in Advanced Placement classes in high school. F.S. 1011.62 (n) provides financial incentives to schools depending on the numbers of level 3 and higher scores students earn on AP exams. Teachers of Advanced Placement courses are also rewarded $50 for each of their students that pass the AP test with a score of 3 or higher. Extra incentives are available for teachers in “D” or “F” schools, who will receive an additional $500 if just one student passes the AP test. Student success in Advanced Placement assessments is, also, rewarded in the High School Grade formula.

We have written before about our concerns regarding the financial incentives surrounding increasing student enrollment in Advanced Placement courses in the face of decreasing numbers of universities willing to award college credit for AP test scores in our blog titled: Advanced Placement Accountabaloney.

Florida prides itself in the number of Advanced Placement courses its high school students take. Is it too much of a good thing? Are decisions being made in the best interest of each student? If you live in Floriduh, you will not be surprised to learn that when you follow the money, you find a bunch of accountabaloney.

Today, in a blog titled “‘Democracy’: What Does Research Say About AP Courses”, Diane Ravitch documents a conversation regarding the value of AP courses, stating there is little “solid evidence that Advanced Placement is any more than hype.” The blog outlines the current “AP hype” and counters it with the available research:

As more students take AP –– many more are doing so…they’ve been told that it is “rigor” and it’s college-level –– more are failing the tests. In 2010, for example, 43 percent of AP test scores were a 1 or 2. The Kool-Aid drinkers argue that “even students who score poorly in A.P. were better off.” Mathews says this too. But it’s flat-out wrong.

The basis for their claim is a College Board-funded study in Texas. But a more robust study (Dougherty & Mellor, 2010) of AP course and test-takers found that “students – particularly low-income students and students of color – who failed an AP exam were no more likely to graduate from college than were students who did not take an AP exam.” Other studies that have tried to tease out the effects of AP while controlling for demographic variables find that “the impact of the AP program on various measures of college success was found to be negligible.”

More colleges and universities are either refusing to accept AP test scores for credit, or they are limiting credit awarded only for a score of 5 on an AP test. The reason is that they find most students awarded credit for AP courses are just generally not well-prepared.

Former Stanford School of Education Dean Deborah Stipek wrote in 2002 that AP courses were nothing more than “test preparation courses,” and they too often “contradict everything we know about engaging instruction.” The National Research Council, in a study of math and science AP courses and tests agreed, writing that “existing programs for advanced study [AP] are frequently inconsistent with the results of the research on cognition and learning.” And a four-year study at the University of California found that while AP is increasingly an “admissions criterion,” there is no evidence that the number of AP courses taken in high school has any relationship to performance in college.

In The ToolBox Revisited (2006) Clifford Adelman scolded those who had misrepresented his original ToolBox research by citing the importance of AP “in explaining bachelor’s degree completion. Adelman said, “To put it gently, this is a misreading.” Moreover, in statistically analyzing the factors contributing to the earning of a bachelor’s degree, Adelman found that Advanced Placement did not reach the “threshold level of significance.”

College Board executives often say that if high schools implement AP courses and encourage more students to take them, then (1) more students will be motivated to go to college and (2) high school graduation rates will increase. Researchers Kristin Klopfenstein and Kathleen Thomas “conclude that there is no evidence to back up these claims.”

In fact, the unintended consequences of pushing more AP may lead to just the reverse. As 2010 book on AP points out “research…suggests that many of the efforts to push the program into more schools — a push that has been financed with many millions in state and federal funds — may be paying for poorly-prepared students to fail courses they shouldn’t be taking in the first place…not only is money being misspent, but the push may be skewing the decisions of low-income high schools that make adjustments to bring the program in — while being unable to afford improvements in other programs.”

Do some students “benefit” from taking AP courses and tests? Sure. But, students who benefit the most are “students who are well-prepared to do college work and come from the socioeconomic groups that do the best in college are going to do well in college.”

We encourage you to read the entire blog post. It highlights research that brings the value of AP courses into doubt (except of course for those who profit from them, namely The College Board and our Florida schools who earn incentives). It also questions the use of PSAT scores for recommending student placement into AP classes (a program my county, Monroe, is currently piloting).

As we wrote before: “Expensive programming that benefits everyone’s bottom line, while underserving the educational needs of the students, is more evidence of Florida’s failed accountability system. It is time to reign in the overemphasis of Advanced Placement coursework in our classrooms. Schools should be offering students the courses that best fit their individual interests and needs and not the courses that provide the biggest bonuses.”

1 Comment

  1. Dennis S Smith

    Dear Mrs. Woltanski, I enjoyed reading all of your blogs. I am a public school teacher in Pensacola. Do you have an email address? I have a few questions. You seem very informed. I am impressed. Sincerely, Dennis S

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