At a time when measurably benchmarking learning (learning accountability) is high on the nation's higher education policy agenda, it makes sense to fix the AP program -- if, indeed, it is broken, which I doubt. Consider that AP courses and exams:
- were developed in consultation with subject matter and assessment experts from higher education,
- cover basic skills and foundational content that are common to the curricula and learning objectives of most colleges and universities,
- can be accepted or not at the discretion of the individual institution,
- allow the institution to set the level of acceptance (exam score),
- motivate students to take college-level work in high school,
- reduce the duplication of effort and costs between secondary and postsecondary education,
- reduce the time and expense the the student of completing a college degree, and
- can provide a benchmark for voluntary peer-group institutional comparisons of learning in courses that are taught in common at most colleges and universities and that account for a considerable percentage of all undergraduate enrollments at any time.
The last point admittedly assumes that AP exams could serve not only as credit-bearing placement exams, as they now do, but also as final exams for their counterpart college courses. This idea may stretch the intended use of the AP exams, but surely with modest adjustments could be an alternative to internally developed exams which too often are developed section by section and are not comparable across course sections -- never mind inter-institutional comparisons!
Whether or not the AP exams are appropriate as final exams in the counterpart college courses, the idea of using common exams in these courses is on the policy agenda of Secretary Spelling's Commission on the Future of Higher Education. The ETS's MAPP (Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress) test, which "focuses on academic skills rather than knowledge developed through general education," offers and alternative of different kind. In any case, I have a hard time understanding the logic of the critics of the AP exams, for they offer no other benchmarkable exams to which to compare the AP exams. Here's an excerpt that reveals the concerns of one of AP's critics.
Advanced Placement: A detour for college fast track?
Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY, March 20, 2006
Admissions officials at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, like those at most colleges nationwide, like to see Advanced Placement courses on high school transcripts. And like many colleges, they typically exempt students who have passed AP exams from taking certain introductory courses. But in recent years, a troubling pattern has emerged. Increasingly, admitted students who boast AP credits "really weren't in many ways ready for the rigor of our college curriculum," says Edith Waldstein, vice president for enrollment management. A committee is looking into whether to readjust the way Wartburg awards AP credit. "It just doesn't mean as much as it used to," she says. Advanced Placement, a program that allows high school students to take college-level courses, has been on a roll. Last year, more than 1.2 million students took more than 2.1 million exams, double the number 11 years ago. The percentage of students who took and passed AP courses increased in every state and the District of Columbia since 2000. Nearly every state has an incentive program to encourage more schools to offer the courses. Read more ...