College Placement

College Advanced Placement, AP Exams, IB Exams, Advanced College Standing

From this chart in the “New York Times,” do you think there are more smart, motivated students now as compared to ten years ago…or do you think high schools are trying to game the system?

A “New York Times” article entitled “High School Classes May Be Advanced in Name Only” by Sam Dillon points out that more high school students are taking “rigorous-sounding” courses than ever before. In fact, the article indicates that the number of students taking these kinds of courses has “nearly tripled over the past two decades.” And yet standardized test scores aren’t increasing in these subject areas. SAT scores have gone down or stayed the same over the last decade. So why are more students taking advanced-sounding courses? Are they looking for college placement credits? Are they looking to stand out to university admissions counselors in the college admissions process? Or are high schools trying to inflate their own status by mislabeling courses and having unqualified and unmotivated students take AP exams because it helps their numbers? We at Ivy Coach think the latter theory has a lot to do with it.

Students taking college placement exams (AP or IB exams) improve their chances for admission to top universities if they do well. College admissions counselors want to see students excel in the most rigorous courses their high schools have to offer. So is it that there are more smart, motivated students than there used to be? Is there greater awareness that high school students need to take rigorous courses and do well in them if they hope to gain admission to a top college? Maybe. But the more likely cause for the trend of more “rigorous-sounding” courses on high school transcripts these days is high schools fluffing their curriculum.

According to the “New York Times” article, “’Like the misleading drink labels, course titles may bear little relationship to what students have actually learned,’ said Dr. Mellor, who has analyzed course completion, test records and other student data in Texas. ‘We see students taking more and more advanced courses, but still not performing well on end-of-course exams.’…A federal study released this month of nearly 38,000 high school transcripts showed that the proportion of graduates completing a rigorous curriculum rose to 13 percent in 2009 from 5 percent in 1990.”

Just because more students than ever before are, for instance, taking AP exams for advanced college placement does not mean that these students are actually doing well on the exams. Instead, high schools encourage students to take the exams to inflate their own number of students who take the exams…even if the students are getting 1’s and 2’s on the 5-point grading scale. According to the “New York Times,” “Politicians and educators in many states have promoted the [AP] program, hoping to provide more rigor beyond the traditional curriculum. But the failure rate is also higher on A.P. exams, which are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. The proportion of exams earning low scores of 1 or 2 rose to 42.5 percent in 2010, up from 36.4 percent in 2000.” Is this really in students’ best interests? Or is it in the best interests of high schools?

Check out the “New York Times” article here.

And check out our newsletters on AP Exams and Standardized Testing.

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