US public school advanced placement classes are increasing in popularity. The number of U.S. public school students taking Advanced Placement classes nearly doubled over the last decade. The class of 2013 took 3.2 million AP exams, according to a College Board report.
Advanced Placement exams, which started in the 1950s, offer a way for students to earn college credit while still in high school and are offered in 34 different subjects. The classes are designed to be rigorous and are graded in a uniform way, meaning students’ grades from one school can be matched up against those from another. Proponents say they help transition students to college and allow graduates to stand out in the college admission process.
Much of the expansion stems from an effort at the district, state and federal levels to make AP classes available to low-income and minority students. The report finds that the number of low-income graduates who took an AP exam has quadrupled in the last decade.
Room to Expand AP Classes
The College Board points out there’s room for more expansion: About 40 percent of public U.S. high schools don’t offer any AP classes. And nearly 300,000 students who were identified by standardized tests as having potential to succeed in AP graduated without taking the classes. It is reaching out directly to students identified as potentially ready for AP classes to encourage them to take them and has teamed with Google to get more female and minority students into AP science and math classes.
There are questions, though, about whether doors to AP classes have been opened too wide and whether schools are doing enough to assist students in them.
In 2013, about 57 percent of AP exams had a score of 3 or higher — the grade many colleges and universities require to award college credit — compared with 61 percent a decade earlier, according to the College Board. That means students did not score a 3 or higher on about 1.4 million exams.
Looking at it in another way, about 20 percent of graduates in 2013 earned a 3 or higher on an AP exam, compared with about 12 percent of graduates in 2003.
Research is unclear on whether there are long-term benefits to taking an AP class if the student fails, said Kristin Klopfenstein, executive director of the Education Innovation Institute at the University of Northern Colorado, who has studied the issue. Among those students, she suspects it’s only those who were on the cusp of passing who get much benefit.
Klopfenstein said from an equity standpoint, it’s good to increase the availability of AP classes. But students may not truly have “access” to the exams unless they’ve been given a quality education to prepare them for the class or extra support to help them succeed.
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