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AP Tests Face Uncertain Future

For the nearly three million high school students who take Advanced Placement tests, the first two weeks in May are among the most stressful in their young lives ("4 Things We Don't Know About AP Tests," npr.og, May 1).  On the basis of the results, they will learn if they can skip introductory college courses and gain credit toward graduation.

Until fairly recently, almost all colleges and universities gave credit for those who posted a score of three or above, out of a top score of five.  But some schools are now reconsidering their policies.  The ostensible reason is that the courses are not evidence of mastery of college-level work. 

It's hard to know if AP courses provide the academic benefits the College Board claims.  I never taught AP, but I knew teachers who did.  The work they assigned seemed as rigorous as that assigned by professors in introductory classes.  But that is strictly a personal observation. What I find most interesting, however, is that as the number of students who take AP tests has increased, pass rates have fallen slightly.  That is in line with my belief that quality and quantity do not exist simultaneously.

With criticism mounting that AP classes are elitist, I expect to see quality slowly diluted as increasing numbers of marginal students are admitted, which in turn will ultimately result in more colleges changing their policies against granting full credit toward graduation.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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