Advanced Placement: Good for top students, oversold to others?

Carol’s Summary:

New research on the value of Advanced Placement programs, offered by College Board in a soon-to-be-released book by Harvard Education Press, AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program, shows mixed results:

Claim: The program helps students save money and graduate on time. This would also encourage more students to go to college.
Counter: According to the Harvard research, this is generally found to have no validity.

Claim: Students in AP classes benefit from smaller class sizes and the school’s best teachers.
Counter: These same acts mean that the rest of a school’s students have larger classes and less time with the best teachers.

The bottom line is that if students don’t build their developmental skills as they move through each grade level, then we are setting them up for failure. It is better to have average students who learn to become strong students even if they are not taking AP courses. Committing to study three hours or more a night, reading for pleasure rather than watching television, and working with tutors, can set them up far more for college success than being in AP courses in which their skills and habits don’t match the content.

When considering AP courses for your child, asking the right questions can help parents decide if an AP course is worth it. Is this course something your son or daughter intends to major in during college? If your child doesn’t know what career path they want to pursue, then taking AP classes may be premature. If they do know, then taking AP classes that connect to these interests makes sense. For instance, if a student wants to become a pharmacist, taking AP history could minimize where she really needs to focus her efforts: on AP chemistry.

Stress is another factor to consider. On a scale from 1-5 (1=rarely stressed and 5=frequently stressed), how healthy is your child at managing stress? If your child is a stress monster, then stacking irrelevant AP classes (ones they don’t intend to pursue for a college major) onto an already demanding schedule could prove counter-productive and lead to burnout. In addition to asking the above questions, here are questions parents can ask the school:

1. How long has this course been taught in this school and by this teacher?
2. What is the teacher’s pass rate? Of those who passed, how many received a 4 or 5 on the test?
3. Are the teacher’s grades for the course related, in any way, to anticipated performance on the AP test?

For more good questions to evaluate the worth of an AP course visit:


USA Today
Advanced Placement: Good for top students, oversold to others?
By Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed
March 30, 2010

The Advanced Placement program is becoming more and more popular, with 25% of high school graduates taking at least one AP examination, elite colleges expecting to see applicants’ transcripts full of the courses, and politicians demanding that more and more high schools offer them. The program has become “the juggernaut of American high school education,” according to the introduction to a new book, AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program.

The book, about to be released by Harvard Education Press, is the result of a 2007 conference at Harvard University that brought together leading education researchers to consider the evidence about AP. Despite the immense popularity of the program, the research evidence on its value is minimal, the book argues. The College Board, the program’s sponsor, publishes or promotes its own research (favoring the program) and promotes “glowing accounts” of AP. But is this really the consensus?

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