Are You Puzzled by Advanced Placement Tests?

Barry Lenson

“ . . . as more students take rigorous AP classes and pass the exams that can earn them college credits, more colleges and universities are scaling back those credits”

- Reporter Gregory A. Paterson writing in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune

It’s a fact that tens of thousands of high school students are taking Advanced Placement Tests this month in high schools around the country. It’s also a fact that more of those kids are wondering why.

AP Tests began as a great experiment in secondary education. If you’re unfamiliar with their history, here’s a quick rundown.

It all started back in 1952. That’s when Harvard, Princeton and Yale decided to let seniors at several prestigious prep schools take college-level courses while still in high school. Then in 1955, The College Board moved in and began to administer tests to evaluate what students had learned in AP classes.

Since then, the program has become an entrenched part of American high school education.  Here are few of the reasons why:

Students are taking AP classes not to earn credit, but to get into better colleges. “I’m not concerned with getting college credit for my AP classes,” a bright high school junior from New Jersey tells us. “I am just taking them because all the smartest students do, and I want to get into a good college.”

Students are getting extensive tutoring to keep up in AP courses. Getting into AP courses is one thing – handling the workload is another. That’s why a secondary tutoring industry has sprung up to tutor students who can’t keep up with the advanced coursework. The result can be pressure-cooker stress on high schoolers who are struggling to show good grades their AP courses.

Colleges are beginning to reduce the credit that they award for AP courses. “More Colleges Reducing Credit for Advanced Placement Classes,” a recent article in the Detroit News, tells the story. That article reports that while many colleges and universities still grant college credit to students who earn a score of 3 out of 5 or better on their AP tests, other schools are waffling; the University of California, Baylor University, and Tufts University are in the process of reducing the credit that they accept for AP Tests.

So why are millions of American students taking AP classes and paying to take evaluation exams? If we dare to put words into their mouths, we would say it’s because . . .

“Everybody who wants to get into a decent college is doing it, so I have to do it too."


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