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'Official' Pre-AP Aimed at Improving College Readiness for All Students

The College Board will announce its official pre-AP program for ninth graders in the fall, with 100 schools across the country piloting the program in an effort to prepare more students from low-income backgrounds for Advanced Placement courses.

You may have seen high school classes and workbooks stamped "pre-AP," but they weren't developed with the guidance of the College Board.

"This is the first time the College Board has developed an official Pre-AP program across multiple disciplines by establishing course frameworks and providing teachers and students with instructional resources, classroom-based assessments, high-quality professional learning, and focused practice," Doug Waugh said in an email. He is the executive director of pre-AP programs.

In addition to language arts and algebra, the official pre-AP-program will offer courses in biology, world history and geography, and visual and performing arts. You can download course samplers here.

The College Board will require teachers to submit a course syllabus and, in order for schools to earn pre-AP designation, ask administrators to attest that they follow these program requirements:

  • Align instruction to the course frameworks;
  • Give students the digital assessments provided by College Board;
  • Take part in professional training; and
  • Offer the course with open access.

There are currently 350,000 students who have potential for AP but don't have access to these college-level courses, according to the College Board. The goal is for pre-AP to increase that number by requiring schools to offer the courses to all ninth graders.

What's the argument for opening pre-AP courses to all? AP has been proven to help low-income students persist in college, according to a study by the College Board's own scientists. The study showed that students from low-income backgrounds who took an AP exam had higher retention rates in college than non-AP students of similar background and ability. The Board cites a 2013 study as well, also by its own scientists, that shows students who took one or more AP exams, regardless of score, were more likely to graduate from college in four years compared to non-AP students, even when controlling for prior academic achievement, demographics, and type of school attended.

The number of AP test takers from low-income households is already on the rise. In 2003 more than 94,000 students from low-income families took an AP exam. In the class of 2016, that number rose to 554,500 test-takers. 

Pre-AP isn't the first effort by the College Board to improve access to higher ed for low-income students. Last December, the nonprofit announced that beginning this spring students could send score reports for the SAT college-entrance exam to as many colleges or universities as they wish for free, as Catherine Gewertz reported. Currently, all students get to send four free reports, while low-income students can send eight.

And last year, the College Board teamed up with Khan Academy to create free test-prep and course materials for teachers and students, as Stephen Sawchuk reported. The new teacher supports will roll out in the 2019-20 school year. The two groups partnered before, in 2014, to offer free online resources and tutoring for the SAT.

Yet for all of the freebies, the College Board is still pulling in a considerable amount of cash. A New York Times article questioned whether the nonprofit's effort to increase access to AP in low-income majority black or Latino schools was more a benefit to students or the College Board's bottom line. Of the College Board's total $916 million in revenue in 2015, $408 million came from fees for the test and instructional materials, the newspaper reported.

And those test fees are rising. Last year's fee hike for low-income students taking AP testsfrom $5 or $15 per test to $53could present obstacles to earning college credit. The increase reflects a loss in federal funding that has left states, districts, and schools scrambling to figure out how to make up the difference, as Catherine Gerwetz reported..

Schools that want to use the "official" pre-AP program must pay for the training and materials, so presumably, the pre-AP program will bring in more money for the College Board—especially if districts and states respond by replacing unofficial pre-AP courses and materials already used in some high schools.

For its part, the College Board has said that "for the past three years" schools and districts have been asking for pre-AP materials and more support and guidance on how to prepare students for college-level courses. Schools already offering their own pre-AP courses will have up to five years to align them with the new requirements and submit them to the College Board for approval.

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