Most AP Classes Survive Audit

By Scott J. Cech — November 05, 2007 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Despite dramatic growth in the number of high school students taking Advanced Placement courses, most of those classes teach material worthy of the name, according to the first-ever audit of AP-course quality.

The New York City-based College Board, the nonprofit organization that owns the Advanced Placement brand, said more than two-thirds of the 134,000 ostensible AP-course syllabuses submitted for review by teachers from 14,383 secondary schools around the world were immediately approved. College Board officials also said that approximately 17,000 teachers did not meet the initial criteria to submit a syllabus for the audit, which Trevor Packer, the vice president of the Advanced Placement program, described as “the largest curricular review that’s ever been undertaken in American history.”

However, College Board officials did not immediately provide a total number of courses that have been approved for posting on a new, searchable registry of AP classes, known as the “AP Course Ledger,” which was announced to the public today. Officials also said that, at this point, they could not provide a percentage of courses that had been rejected.

“As a result of this work, college-admissions officials, students, parents, and educators can have continued confidence that the AP designation on students’ transcripts is only allowed for syllabi that have been approved by college faculty,” Mr. Packer said.

The review, paid for by the College Board, analyzed AP-course documents that teachers submitted between January and June 1 of this year. The deadline for submitting syllabuses has been extended until this coming Jan. 31 for teachers of two new AP classes—Chinese and Japanese—and for some block-schedule teachers.

The course syllabuses were reviewed by 839 college and university professors in the 37 subject areas taught in AP classes, which are designed to teach college-level material and prepare students to pass end-of-course AP exams that can qualify them for college credit. Teachers could consult a syllabus checklist the College Board posted on its Web site showing what ingredients their course outlines should have.

Guidance Offered

The College Board also posted evaluation guidelines for teachers, as well as several sample syllabuses for the 52-year-old AP program. About 67 percent of AP teachers’ course outlines were approved immediately. Teachers whose outlines were rejected on the first try were given two more chances to rejigger the documents, with feedback from the professors about how to improve their chances.

In at least one state, College Board officials went so far as to conduct in-person workshops to help teachers.

“It was about, ‘Here are the things we’re going to be looking for,’ ” said W. Tad Johnston, a mathematics specialist and regional representative for the Maine Department of Education, which invited the officials.

But the process was far from a cakewalk for some teachers, Mr. Johnston said—even those who have been teaching AP for years.

“We have an [AP] U.S. History teacher with a strong track record—a lot of her students score four or five [out of five possible points on their AP exams], and it’s rare she has a student score less than three, but her syllabus took several resubmissions,” he noted.

While some teachers only had to put in as few as three hours into preparing their syllabuses, Mr. Johnston added, some took up to 40 hours on the task.

“I’m not really surprised that AP courses are AP-level,” said Dan Fuller, the director of public policy for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit organization of about 180,000 administrators and teachers. “It’s sort of circular logic, but schools and educators know what they’re doing—they know what things are up to snuff and what aren’t.”

No ‘AP Study Hall’

The College Board has said it plans to follow up its reviews during the 2008-09 school year with a few in-person visits by professors to schools with especially low AP-exam scores. Mr. Packer said in an interview, however, that those observations of how syllabuses are being followed will only be conducted with advance notice.

While Mr. Packer conceded that prearranged visits would allow schools with subpar teaching to put a good face on potentially lackluster pedagogy, he said the audits were “not a policing mechanism. … [W]e are not a police force.”

Thomas Matts, the College Board’s director of the AP-course audit, said college-admissions offices have historically looked favorably on AP courses on students’ transcripts. Yet with the number of students taking AP classes jumping 150 percent in the past 10 years, “the admissions offices came to us asking us to provide them with some evidence that teachers … hadn’t watered down their standards to accommodate this fantastic growth.”

Barmak Nassirian, the associate executive director of the Washington-based American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said colleges’ view of AP coursework’s rigor has dimmed over the years.

Over time, he said, “it became a tool solely for admission purposes, not as a [mark of an AP course’s] college equivalence, but even that began to suffer a little bit when course designation got a little loosey-goosey.”

Mr. Packer said the audit, which higher education officials asked in 2004 that the College Board conduct, was launched because, among other reasons, “[college-] admissions officers wanted assurance that ‘AP’ wasn’t being attached to courses that weren’t AP, and that any course labeled ‘AP’ had been examined by college faculty.” He said he had heard from admissions officials who were examining college applicants’ high school transcripts and wanted to know, for example, if there was really such a class as “AP Study Hall.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Teaching Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: How Can We Help Students Feel Connected to School?
Get strategies for your struggles with student engagement. Bring questions for our expert panel. Help students recover the joy of learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal The Senate Gun Bill: What It Would Mean for School Safety, Mental Health Efforts
Details of a bipartisan Senate agreement on guns outline additional funding to support student mental health programs.
6 min read
Protesters take to the streets of downtown Detroit June 11 to call for new gun laws. One holds up a sign that says "policy and change."
Protesters call for new gun laws in Detroit's March for Our Lives event earlier this month.
KT Kanazawich for Education Week
Federal What Educators Need to Know About Senators' Bipartisan Deal on Guns, School Safety
In addition to gun restrictions, a tentative compromise would also fund mental health and school safety programs—but it faces hurdles.
4 min read
Protesters hold up a sign that shows the outline of a rifle struck through with a yellow line at a demonstration in support of stronger gun laws.
Protesters gather for the March For Our Lives rally in Detroit, among the demonstrations against gun violence held on the heels of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.
KT Kanazawich for Education Week
Federal Senate Negotiators Announce a Deal on Guns, Breaking Logjam
The agreement offers modest gun curbs and bolstered efforts to improve school safety and mental health programs.
5 min read
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks during a rally near Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 10, 2022, urging Congress to pass gun legislation. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Federal Education Secretary: 'Let's Transform Our Appreciation of Teachers to Action'
Miguel Cardona shared strategies to help recruit, develop, and retain effective teachers.
5 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event in the White House on April 27.
Susan Walsh/AP