Assessment

College Board Pitches for Expanding AP Access

By Caralee J. Adams — October 14, 2014 5 min read
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With stagnant SAT scores and many students with the potential to succeed in Advanced Placement classes not enrolling in them, the College Board last week underscored its resolve to get more students on the path to college through expanded access to its programs.

The 2014 College Board Program Results combines the results of the SAT, the AP tests, and the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test for the first time, in an effort to demonstrate how the programs are interrelated and can be used to encourage greater participation.

Officials highlighted “missed opportunities,” such as students and educators who fail to leverage early information from the PSAT to sign promising students up for rigorous classes.

Nearly 5 percent of students who were on target to meet the SAT’s college-readiness benchmarks as juniors—29,000 of the 609,000 who took the PSAT—fell off target by their senior year when they took the SAT. The report also found that as many as four in 10 students in the class of 2014 with AP potential did not take an AP course for which they showed likelihood of success.

“With earlier intervention and additional supports, these kids could have been ready to succeed,” said Cyndie Schmeiser, the chief of assessment for the New York City-based College Board.

Overall, SAT participation was up less than 1 percent, from 1.66 million students last year to 1.67 million, according to the latest report. Meanwhile, ACT Inc., based in Iowa City, Iowa, continues to expand its market share, with 1.85 million students taking the rival ACT exam among the graduates of the class of 2014.

This year, the average SAT score was 1497, out of 2400 points, compared with 1498 in 2013. Critical reading increased 1 point, while average scores in math and writing each fell by 1 point. The share of students who met the SAT’s college- and career-readiness benchmark was 42.6 percent, a slight decrease from 42.7 percent the previous year.

The news was brighter for the AP program, with exam participation growing 3.8 percent, to 1.48 million students, in 2014. The increase was nearly double that for traditionally underrepresented minority students and low-income students compared with 2013. Overall, 21.9 percent of public high school 11th and 12th graders took an AP exam, up from 20.1 percent last year.

Expansion ‘Significant’

Robert Rothman, a senior fellow with the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington policy and advocacy group, said the expansion of AP to more disadvantaged students is “very significant.” More attention is being paid to Advanced Placement as a measure of high school quality, prompting an increased push for enrollment, he said.

In the past decade, the percentage of students receiving a passing score on an AP exam has nearly doubled, growing from 7.6 percent in 2004 to 13.2 percent in 2014, the report says.

For the PSAT/NMSQT, 3.7 million high school sophomores and juniors took the exam at school in fall 2013—up from 3.6 million the previous year. This year’s report shows that nearly 500,000 students taking the test from the class of 2016 have the aptitude to excel in an AP course.

Using the scores that students earn on the PSAT, the College Board identifies students with potential to excel in AP and has been providing schools with those rosters to help boost enrollment.

“There are a lot of principals that are constantly looking for opportunities to get kids with potential into AP courses, but clearly there is a lot more work to be done,” said Bob Farrace, a spokesperson for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, based in Reston, Va. “You really need to start earlier than high school. You can’t expect kids to show up and enroll if they haven’t already built the attitude that they are going to take a rigorous course.”

The AP program is not the only avenue for students to take challenging courses, said Joseph DiMartino, the president of the Center for Secondary School Redesign, a Providence, R.I., organization that brings technical assistance, professional development, research, and support to schools. “I am partial to early college where kids are actually taking college courses,” said Mr. DiMartino, who is concerned that the growth of AP classes may squeeze out other options for increasing college readiness.

Changing Commitment

College Board President and CEO David Coleman said the organization is positioning itself to ensure students’ successful transition to higher education.

“One might say, ‘Hey, our job is to design good courses, and then we are done. It is not our fault who ends up in these courses,’ ” said Mr. Coleman. “But it is the view of this College Board that while it may not be our fault, it’s most certainly our problem.”

He highlighted the board’s All In Campaign and AP STEM Access as initiatives aimed at getting broader representation of students in ap. The College Board also subsidizes testing costs to promote equity. This year, nearly 24 percent of students took the SAT using a fee waiver, up from 23 percent in 2013, according to the new report.

Still, racial gaps persist with AP and SAT performance, with little change this year compared with last. In 2014, just 15.8 percent of African-American students met the SAT benchmark, while 23.4 percent of Hispanics did and 42.6 percent of students overall, according to the report.

Lindsey Tepe, a program associate with education policy programs for the New America Foundation, a Washington-based public policy group, said the College Board has the buy-in from higher education. “Colleges accept these assessments,” using the SAT for admissions and offering credit for AP to varying degrees, she said. Still, students who are pushed to enroll in AP and fail the exam may be better off in a course where they build solid foundational knowledge of the subject, she added.

Many educators are holding out hope that students will do better on the redesign of the SAT, which will look more like the curriculum-based ACT, when it debuts in 2016.

Jeff Fuller, the president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington, Va., and the director of student recruitment at the University of Houston, said College Board officials have sought feedback from his organization’s members in an attempt to boost student readiness.

“What colleges are looking at is not just getting students into, but also through college,” said Mr. Fuller, adding that having the College Board results bundled is helpful when assessing the big picture of student performance. Colleges are looking for partnerships with school districts so students take advantage of learning opportunities that can improve outcomes, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 15, 2014 edition of Education Week as As SAT Scores Stall, College Board Pitches for More AP Access

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