Thoughts on the push in high schools for students to take AP exams and the impact on higher ed.
Yesterday I wrote about AP classes and exams from a high school student’s perspective (short version: good thing), I thought I’d write today some thoughts about the view from the higher ed side. In general, higher ed has a love/hate relationship with AP and other course-equivalent scheme. In no particular order:
- To be competitive in recruiting good students, we feel the pressure to reward such work.
- It helps a bit with crowding in some of the lower level courses, plus it allows those courses to have a narrower focus (level-wise) if some of the top-end students aren’t taking it.
- The rewarded courses often have some extra university specific material that isn’t covered in the general AP course. For example, on campus English 101-102 also introduces students to our library and it’s services, and in some of our math courses, we also address study skills and other college skills.
- The separation between high school and college is blurred. I asked a group of graduate students as to when in their undergraduate career did they feel they were really in college and most said somewhere towards the end of their 2nd year or beginning of their third. (This is more of higher ed’s fault of not clearly defining college-level work and making/allowing relatively low-level work to count)
- Often these courses satisfy some general education requirements and if you think of those as being an important part of the overall development of a student and as to what it means to be a college graduate, then it seems weird that we let it be taught in high school.
- If a course is the first in a series or a prerequisite for major courses, then the fact that the AP teachers would usually not have the background or experience with the advanced courses and thus might not prepare the students properly or motivate them to continue on in their studies in that area.
- The grading of the exams and the rewarding of the 0-5 score, might not represent the right type of understanding that we would expect of our students in our university courses. At one time a score of 50-60% on the BC Calculus exam was good enough to earn a 5, and the generous and structured way they give partial credit could make it possible for a student without a full understanding to score that high.
The move to more AP, dual credit, dual enrollment, IB, etc. is an issue that higher ed needs to look at more carefully and figure out a way to incorporate it positively into our total curriculum.