It was reported this week that Dartmouth College plans to end its practice of allowing students to use Advanced Placement exams for college credit. It was not an overnight decision. Apparently the institution had been contemplating this change for almost ten years, and it will become effective with the class of 2018.
Will other institutions follow Dartmouth? That’s probably the bigger concern right now for high schools and their constituents, such as students, parents, and AP teachers, not to mention the College Board.
Dartmouth questions the rigor of the AP program compared to classes taught by their professors. They are not disputing the value AP classes can offer high school students as an introduction to the college curriculum, or its relevance as an academic motivator for the unassuming and “late-bloomers.” One perspective is that perhaps Dartmouth is concerned with what’s in the best interest of the collegian to maximize college success. It is difficult to excel at higher levels of curriculum if the objectives have not been met in preliminary courses.
High schools experience this challenge, also, with students who are not equipped with the necessary foundation, from their earlier education, that promotes academic success. Many will advance to math, science, and foreign language placement levels without adequate preparation; and unfortunately, face demands that produce unfavorable grades.
Was I surprised with this news; not really. I was a school counselor for thirty years and was the school’s AP Coordinator for eighteen. Even though I supported a student’s desire to take AP classes, I never misled students as a counselor, or AP Coordinator, to believe that their exam scores, particularly 3-5, would guarantee college credits. They were always advised to consult with each college for confirmation; in other words, never assume anything. It was also written in my AP registration packet.
During the 80’s and 90’s, there was silent talk among some counselors and admissions representatives that not all colleges accepted AP scores for credit; that’s how I knew. There was no published list but we knew “unofficially” the target institutions. This didn’t stop students from taking AP courses, because they were motivated and wanted the rigor of the curriculum; desired a particular teacher who stimulated the class with content and effective strategies; and taking the course at a local community college was not always an option.
Fast-forward to the 2000 era, and the nation’s perspective of our educational system puzzled many people. Just as high schools were concerned about the proficiency level of its new arrivals, colleges were expressing the same needs. Some college professors felt the collegians in their classes, who had advanced due to AP credits, were not adequately prepared. You may be surprised to know that some parents felt the same; especially, when they saw the first semester college grades. This trickled through many channels, and thus gave birth to AP audits for high school teachers. The College Board organized the process and AP teachers had to demonstrate their proficiency through curriculum development and other factors. Some experienced teachers, even in progressive systems, were surprised when their submission was rejected. The AP audit allowed the College Board, and high schools, to comply with colleges’ expectations.
After the audit, it was noticed that not all colleges automatically awarded credit for scores of 3 and 4; only for a five. It could vary contingent on the score earned, the major, and the institution’s selective status. One of my favorite college resources stopped publishing it, because they said it was too difficult to maintain accurate information.
Only time will tell if Dartmouth’s decision will persuade other institutions to do the same. They all march to a different drummer and whether or not you agree or disagree, it is their choice. Recently, several colleges have reduced their tuition, or frozen it. Has everyone jumped on the band wagon? Not yet, we just have to wait and see.