Stop Letting High-School Courses Count for College Credit

The following is from the commentary section of the Chronicle of Higher Ed. The article is written by Michael Mendillo who is a professor of astronomy at Boston University. Make sure you not only read the article, but the comments that appear immediately after.

It has been 25 years since I ended administrative service to return to the joys of full-time teaching and research in a science department at a major research university. One of the assets I brought back to my department was a thorough familiarity and appreciation of the teaching and research done by colleagues in the humanities and social sciences. When advising our undergraduate science majors on how to complete their general-education requirements, I felt particularly useful. I could recommend courses across the disciplines taught by professors I knew well.

Those days are gone. We still have outstanding instructors in the departments outside those required for our major, and we still have multicourse breadth requirements. What has changed is that so many students (and the very best ones, in particular) arrive with these requirements already fulfilled. Transcripts show no ambiguity about it: “General Education requirements satisfied by Advanced Placement (AP) in X, Y, and Z.” Discussions with faculty across the country have revealed this to be a nearly universal pattern.

As students, parents, and high-school advisers know, “good students” should strive to take as many AP courses as they can manage, and then pass the placement exams with grades of 4 or 5. This will impress college-admission committees and remove the need to ever experience that ma­terial at an introductory level in college. Moreover, the financial benefits can amount to a semester or more of tuition saved. And the emotional benefits are well known. The sense of being pre-certified with elite status adds to self-esteem—a fact central to those who so successfully market the term “advanced placement.”

But while all of this is going on, does anyone ever ask if it makes sense from an educational perspective? Do we really feel that the best students in a given discipline have no need to experience courses in nonrelated fields? Is this the best way to prepare America’s educated citizenry? It is accepted as reality by university administrators, with only an occasional faculty voice raised in doubt that an AP course is truly equivalent to an introductory course taught at the collegiate level. (Read the rest of the article.)

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More Degrees Without More Education

Under pressure to award more degrees, colleges may lower standards to pump up graduation numbers, warns Watson Scott Swail of Educational Policy Institute on College Puzzle.

Some propose giving a bachelor’s degree to students with 120 credits, even if the student hasn’t completed a course of study.  Such graduates won’t strengthen the workforce, Swail writes.

Others want high school students to earn college credits to speed their way to an associate degree. Unlike Advanced Placement, dual-enrollment classes recruit average and below-average students. Can these students really handle college-level courses? Swail suspects the classes will have to be watered down.  That will produce more semi-educated people with degrees.

AP is backed by national exams. Dual-enrollment courses — sometimes taught by high school teachers — don’t have a way to show that students are performing at the college level. I predict that will be a growing concern.

Via Community College Spotlight.

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Number of AP Test Takers Has Nearly Doubled Since 2001

The number of high-school seniors who took at least one Advanced Placement examination before graduating has almost doubled since 2001, according to the College Board’s annual AP report, released on Wednesday.

In 2010, 853,314 graduating seniors at public high schools had taken at least one AP exam. That’s an increase of more than 55,000 students since 2009.

The number of students who performed well on the exams—a score of 3 or better—is also up from 2009. In the Class of 2010, 16.9 percent of graduates met that mark on at least one AP exam, a slight increase from 16 percent in 2009. And 12,705 public schools had AP students in 2010, an increase of 165 schools over the year before.

AP scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest and 3 predicting success in college-level coursework, according to the College Board.

The report stresses the importance of mathematics and science exams and cites data from the Harvard Education Press that show that students who take AP math or science exams are more likely than their peers to earn degrees in related fields.

“We need to make sure that we’re building the strongest math and science programs in high school so we can really fortify students for what they will experience in college,” said Trevor Packer, vice president of the College Board.

However, disparities in students’ scores on math and science exams show that many schools struggle to prepare students for AP exams in those areas. Although more than 70 percent of test takers in AP Calculus BC, Computer Science AB, and Physics C: Mechanics received a score of 3 or higher, more than 30 percent of test takers in AP Biology, Calculus AB, Chemistry, Computer Science A, and Environmental Science exams received a 1.

Read more.

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