U may consider tighter AP credit policy

AP scores nationwide increased in 2012 among a larger pool of participants.

by Tyler Gieseke

University of Minnesota officials want to work with colleges and departments to consider a stricter Advanced Placement policy.

As a greater proportion of freshmen enter the University with AP credit every year, some administrators want to explore accepting only scores of four and five. The University currently accepts a score of three in most cases.

High school students can take AP courses and tests in 34 subjects to earn college credit. Threes, fours and fives are all considered passing scores on the AP test.

More than half of Big Ten schools accept mostly fours or fives for credit,  including Northwestern University and the University of Michigan.

“We’ve been out of alignment with many of our peers in taking threes,” said Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

He said discussions about narrowing the acceptance scores have occurred for at least five years.

Though McMaster said he didn’t know whether a stricter AP policy would discourage students from coming to the University, he would like to look at data to see on which AP tests students are scoring large numbers of threes.

Students typically have a range of scores, he said, so they could still get some credit even if their threes weren’t accepted.

Any decision to increase AP score requirements at the University would be made on a course-by-course basis, said Suzanne Bardouche, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education.

From 2007 to 2011, the percentage of incoming University students with AP credit grew nearly 10 percent to more than half of students, McMaster said.

The average number of credits per student was 16.3 in 2011, up nearly three credits from 2007.

A changing landscape

When she first came to the University, Amanda Longley was nearly a sophomore.

She had earned about 20 credits through AP and International Baccalaureate classes, she said, mainly receiving scores of four and five on her AP exams.

This type of story is becoming more frequent at the University and nationwide.

A College Board report released in February showed 2012 high school graduates scored higher on AP exams, although a larger, more diverse pool of students participated than ever before.

The cause, some speculated, could be a heightened commitment to thorough preparation for college.

In the past, the AP program was for more elite students, said Potoula Chresomales, executive director of the AP program at the College Board, which administers the AP test.

But she said that seems to be changing.

“Now, it’s really for all students that are motivated and prepared for the challenge,” she said.

As academic programs are expanded to a broader student base, it’s typical to see a decrease in scores, Chresomales said. But after years of decline, average scores slightly increased in 2012 — an uptick she expects to continue.

The increase in participants isn’t surprising, said food science freshman Jacob Meier, since getting college credit from AP exams helps students.

“It saves them money.”

Focused on preparation

Since college admissions officers look for students who are successful in difficult coursework, Chresomales said, one reason for the increase in scores could be that students are more focused on preparing for AP tests.

Emily Van Kampen, a graduate student in counseling psychology, agreed.

“I feel like there’s just generally a push for everybody to do more,” she said, adding that students want to be more competitive in the admissions process.

But Van Kampen said she didn’t take any AP courses when she was in high school.

“It seemed like a lot more work than it was worth,” she said.

Increased AP scores and participation could be related to the cost of education, McMaster said. He said he thinks more parents are realizing that AP credits can provide students with benefits like flexibility and a shorter time to graduation.

Chresomales said another possible reason for the increase in scores could be an AP course audit initiated in 2007. As part of the audit, university faculty members across the country are reviewing course syllabi to ensure they align with course standards.

“We think that [the audit has] been gradually improving and increasing the consistency of what happens in AP classrooms across the nation,” Chresomales said.

Increasing participation

One of every five 2012 high school graduates received a passing grade in at least one AP exam.

The percentage was nearly the same for Minnesota graduates.

“That’s overall good news,” Chresomales said.

But there’s more work to be done, she said, because participation and success figures for the AP program aren’t “that high.”

Going forward, the College Board will focus on closing the huge gap between those who have AP potential and those who are actually participating, Chresomales said.

Sometimes, she said, students might not participate in AP courses because their school doesn’t offer them.

Google issued a $5 million grant to start new AP math and science courses across the nation in schools where many underserved students have the potential to succeed in those courses, Chresomales said.

“We’ve been very excited about that,” she said.