College & Workforce Readiness

Study: AP Classes Alone Don’t Aid College Work

By Vaishali Honawar — January 04, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

There is no evidence that high school students who enroll in college-level courses such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes improve their academic performance in college unless they take the tests offered at the end of each course, says a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Universities may need to reconsider the manner in which such courses are treated in competitive admissions, say the authors of the study, Saul Geiser and Veronica Santelices, both education researchers at Berkeley.

“The Role of Advanced Placement and Honors Courses in College Admissions” is available online from the University of California at Berkeley. ()

The researchers examined the role of AP and similar high school courses for 81,445 freshmen at the University of California’s eight undergraduate campuses between fall 1998 and fall 2001. They examined admissions data about those students as well as first- and second-year grade point averages at the university and college- persistence rates.

The study itself was inspired by the university system’s admissions policy that adds bonus points to a student’s high school grade point average for taking an AP, IB, or honors course, even if the student did not take the test associated with the course.

The study says that the increasing emphasis on AP and other advanced courses as a factor in admissions, particularly at colleges that are difficult to get into, has highlighted “a number of problematic features,” including disparities in availability and access to AP courses for underrepresented minorities and others from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Although many states, including California, have adopted policies encouraging expansion of AP coursework in disadvantaged schools, participation in AP and other honors-level courses remains sharply skewed along socioeconomic and racial/ethnic lines,” the report says.

Mr. Geiser said the purpose of his study was to look at AP and other honors courses as predictors of college outcomes.

“In high-stakes admissions, we have to justify whatever criteria we use by showing they predict success in college—something that is routinely done at highly selective institutions,” he said.

College Board Reaction

The College Board, which sponsors the AP program, has been trying to recast the program to bring it within the reach of any student willing to do the work, regardless of academic standing. Observers say the trend could help bridge the academic gap between lower-achieving Hispanic and black students and their white and Asian-American classmates. (“Advanced Placement Courses Cast Wider Net,” Nov. 3, 2004.)

Trevor Packer, the executive director of the AP program, called the study an “important step to fill a gap in research on AP” and pointed out that it did not question the traditional use of the advanced classes as a tool for placement into college courses and granting college credit.

But the scope of the study would have to be expanded beyond the University of California before the College Board could consider advocating its use in informing admission policy.

“This study doesn’t show that students who don’t take the exam don’t perform, well because we are looking at a very limited size of already gifted and talented students,” Mr. Packer said.

The Berkeley report presents policy options for colleges and universities to consider, such as asking them to give extra weight to AP coursework in admissions decisions only when students take the end-of-course exams.

It points out that while performance on the exams is strongly related to college performance, a large and growing number of students now enroll in AP coursework without taking the AP exams. One estimate says that one-third of AP students do not sit for the exams. Another option would be for colleges to reduce the weight given to AP and honors coursework in admissions.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed, but one researcher interviewed agreed with its findings.

Jennifer Dounay, a policy analyst for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, did a study in 2000 on state trends and policies on the AP program. She agreed with the Berkeley report that simply weighing coursework for college admissions may not be a good idea because it is likely that students who just take the courses may not complete them.

“It is important to test at the end to gauge what a student learned,” Ms. Dounay said, adding that evidence appears to suggest that students who take end-of-course tests for honors courses do better in college than those who take the classes but not the tests.

A version of this article appeared in the January 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as Study: AP Classes Alone Don’t Aid College Work

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
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.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

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

College & Workforce Readiness Infographic Students Feel Good About Their College Readiness. These Charts Tell a Different Story
In charts and graphs, a picture unfolds of high school students’ lack of preparedness for college.
2 min read
Student hanging on a tearing graduate cap tassel
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness How International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Programs Compare
Both the IB and AP programs allow students to earn college credit in high school. Though how the program operate can differ.
1 min read
Marilyn Baise gives a lecture on Feng Shui and Taoism in her world religions class at Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla., on Jan. 23, 2024.
Marilyn Baise gives a lecture on Feng Shui and Taoism in her world religions class at Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla., on Jan. 23, 2024.
Zack Wittman for Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness Dartmouth and Yale Are Backtracking on ‘Test-Optional’ Admissions. Why That Matters
The Ivy League schools say test scores help them make better decisions, but most schools are keeping tests optional.
6 min read
Image of a bank of computers in a library.
baona/E+
College & Workforce Readiness States Are Making Work-Based Learning a Top Policy Priority
Interest in career and technical education continues to grow in schools nationwide, new report shows.
3 min read
Kermir Highsmith, left, Dynasty McClurk, center, and Nevaeh Williams, work in their culinary arts class at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Dec. 13, 2022.
Kermir Highsmith, left, Dynasty McClurk, center, and Nevaeh Williams, work in their culinary arts class at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Dec. 13, 2022.
Nate Smallwood for Education Week