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Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Two Learning Centers Support All AP Students

November 23, 2004 3 min read

To the Editor:

Thank you for your superb front-page article on the expanding role of Advanced Placement coursework (“Advanced Placement Courses Cast Wider Net,” Nov. 3, 2004.) Your coverage seemed to grasp that students’ decisions to either take or avoid AP courses have fundamental effects on their college attendance. Undeniably, access to a robust AP curriculum is rapidly becoming the national “gold standard” for parents, students, and school administrators who have dreams of acquiring a first-rate education.

In Wisconsin, each year nearly half of high school seniors plan to attend a four-year college. Sadly, of the students who actually enroll in the state’s university system, nearly four in 10 never earn bachelor’s degrees within six years of their initial entry. The primary reason for this extraordinarily high attrition rate is a general lack of adequate academic preparation on the part of the students.

Advanced Placement coursework offers a readily available solution to the college-attrition dilemma. This is seen in several U.S. Department of Education studies suggesting that high school students who immerse themselves in AP coursework are later rewarded with significantly higher college-graduation rates. Parenthetically, your article describes how rural and urban students are singularly prevented from achieving this most praiseworthy of objectives. The lack of adequate resources and qualified AP teachers conspires to keep these rural and urban students from taking AP classes.

Three years ago, my colleagues and I at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center on Education and Work recognized the correlation between AP coursework and college attrition. At the time, we proposed the creation of a Wisconsin Advanced Placement Distance Learning Consortium (http://www.apconsortium.wisc.edu/). Using an economy-of-scale model, this federal Department of Education and University of Wisconsin system jointly sponsored program has enabled Wisconsin rural and urban school districts to share their AP teacher talents. In doing so, the districts have been able to nurture a geographically diverse body of AP students who are now connected via a network of full-motion-video studios.

In the end, both Wisconsin students and their Wisconsin AP teachers reap the benefits of the shared AP curriculum. Obviously, we view this outcome as a very good thing. Possessing broad access to an AP curriculum means that many of these Wisconsin students will not only be accepted into college, but will also have a reasonable chance of graduating once they arrive.

Patrick F. Gould

Associate Researcher

Center on Education and Work

School of Education

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, Wis.

To the Editor:

The concern over the changing demographics of Advanced Placement students is nothing new or noteworthy—it’s just the same old hand-wringing we see every time educators try to extend rigorous learning opportunities to “average” students. These objections can and should be easily dismissed.

In “Answers in the Tool Box,” a 1999 study from the U.S. Department of Education, Clifford Adelman demonstrated that AP course completion is highly correlated to completion of a bachelor’s degree. Even if students do not take or “pass” the AP exam, they still get a taste of college-level work and preparation for success at the university. Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, has shown that average and even remedial students frequently perform better when placed in rigorous courses than when they are not being challenged. As for the claim that extending AP courses to more students has lowered the program’s standards, how could that happen? The AP program has a national standard—the AP exam—administered by an organization with a vested interest in maintaining rigor.

Obviously, we must make sure that every AP teacher is prepared to give the finest instruction possible to his or her college-bound students, and increasing AP offerings can make that a challenge. More and better professional development is needed, including training that explains the needs of nontraditional AP students and teaches the teachers to make up for some disadvantages in students’ backgrounds.

We have to remember that our duty is to give children the education they want and need, regardless of their lives outside the schoolhouse. As such, Advanced Placement, which is increasingly important to postsecondary success, should not be denied to any student on the basis of long-disproved myths.

Mary Catherine Swanson

Founder and Executive Director

AVID Center

San Diego, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the November 24, 2004 edition of Education Week as Two Learning Centers Support All AP Students

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