Will Dropping AP Become a National Trend?

Sidwell Friends School’s Administration Building
Photo Credit: Cosal via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 4.0)

Eight Washington, DC area elite, private schools announced that they are dropping out of the Advanced Placement (AP) program. Georgetown Day, Holton-Arms, Landon, Maret, National Cathedral, Potomac, St. Albans and Sidwell Friends in a joint statement said that AP courses would be phased out from their schools.

The Washington Post published their statement which reads in part:

While each of us offers a unique academic program grounded in our historical missions and educational philosophies, we have jointly come to recognize the diminished utility of Advanced Placement courses. Consequently, collectively we agree that we will better equip our students for further study and for life beyond the classroom by eliminating AP courses from our curriculums entirely by 2022.

When introduced in the early 1950s, the rationale for the AP program was to offer particularly ambitious students an opportunity to pursue and receive credit for college-level work, allowing them to graduate from college early. Yet today, few college students graduate in less than four years. At the same time, almost 40 percent of high school students enroll in AP courses, meaning it is no longer true that only a few, exceptional students take them.

As a result, AP courses on high school transcripts are of diminished significance to college admissions officers. Further, we’ve conducted our own survey of almost 150 college and university admissions officers and have been assured that the absence of the AP designation will have no adverse impact on our students. The real question for colleges is whether an applicant has taken a high school’s most demanding courses; the AP designation itself is irrelevant.

I have no great affection for AP courses, and I think they have gone downhill with David Coleman at the helm of The College Board, so I’m not surprised by this development.

They continue:

Naturally, colleges and universities want the most capable and hard-working students. Therefore, in the belief that failing to take an AP course may hurt their college prospects, students reluctantly pass up more interesting, more engaging and potentially more intellectually transformative and rewarding courses. Because these tests loom so large for students, faculty often feel pressed to sacrifice in-depth inquiries to cover all of the material likely to be included on the test.

But the truth is that college courses, which demand critical thinking and rigorous analysis, look nothing like AP courses, which stress breadth over depth. Moving away from AP courses will allow us to offer courses that are foundational, allow for authentic engagement with the world and demonstrate respect for students’ intellectual curiosity and interests.

Inside HIgher Ed notes that some schools are questioning whether utilizing AP is the best use of limited resources:

In addition, as more states have pushed for the expansion of AP programs in high schools, some have noted high failure rates in schools with limited resources, and have questioned whether high schools with serious education challenges should be focusing money and attention on AP. If educators at public high schools share the concerns of the Washington private schools, some are likely to note that they lack the resources to create the kinds of advanced courses that private schools can offer. Others at public high schools have said that the AP framework, whatever its flaws, encourages high schools to provide demanding courses for top students.

Schools should definitely provide demanding courses for top students, but I think it’s a crutch for schools to say they lack the resources to offer courses that private schools can offer. Most private schools don’t have the budget these particular elite schools in DC have.

One problem for many schools is that Common Core has pushed schools into a race for the middle, so advanced courses are not getting the time and attention they require. It’s easier to do AP courses than to create your own curriculum.

The College Board, predictably, said your students will miss out.

A spokesman for the College Board provided this statement to Inside Higher Ed on the schools’ decision:

Over the past decade, the students at just these D.C.-area independent schools have earned more than 39,000 credit hours at the colleges to which they sent their AP scores. That equates to nearly $59 million in tuition savings at highly selective colleges, not to mention the head start these students received in their majors — particularly in STEM disciplines. At a time when the placement, credit and admission benefits of AP have never been greater, it’s surprising that these schools would choose to deny their students these advantages.

I will say there are other ways to receive college credit while in high school so AP is not the only way. Time will tell if this will be a growing trend.

4 thoughts on “Will Dropping AP Become a National Trend?

  1. Yeah our kids will miss out on the lies and indoctrination fed to them via AP courses. They serve no other purpose than to stroke parents ego and put a lot of money in the hands of the College Board. They do not and never did help a student get into college. Even the VP of the College Board made that statement at a presentation to the TN State School Board when we had Jane Robbins come and help us try to stop the board from accepting the APUSH rewrite. Parents need to STOP utilizing SAT and AP courses. Time to STARVE THE BEAST.

  2. What I would like to know is the statistics on the dirty little secret……how many college students skipping intro courses by passing the AP exam, only to struggle at the next level, have to drop the class to take the intro and risk losing scholarship money based upon keeping a certain GPA? Yes…this is happening a lot. AP teaching to the test is NOT an education.

  3. Thank you for this. I didn’t know much about AP education because I went to a rural school that didn’t offer them, and we lived nowhere near a college. I did feel hurt when marrying early that I was compelled to drop out of high school soon after, my husband didn’t have to worry about school/life balance thanks to taking several AP courses at his school, so I always wished I took them. The 2014 State of College Admission Report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling does say that only 7.5% of colleges care about AP scores. However 81.5% do care about grades in college-prep courses. I wonder why the grades matter but not the scores? 63.7% also pointed to the strength of curriculum as being important. I wonder if a student would be better off in a rigorous liberal arts based college-prep charter or private school instead of pursuing AP courses? Also how can we get those who would like to have a family at an earlier age out of the extremely prolonged schooling cycle (it used to be Universities started at 14 years old until society decided youth needed more time to prepare) and yet still get a quality education and a decent chance for a job? Any thoughts?

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