Education Commission: Broaden Access to AP Courses

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A new report titled “Advanced Placement: Model Policy Components,” released by the Education Commission of The States, details the factors needed for successful Advanced Placement (AP) programs in high schools.

Research shows that student participation in Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which were launched in 1955 by the College Board, strongly correlates with postsecondary enrollment and completion. However, the report also finds that students of color and low-income students are underrepresented in these courses.

The report outlines the key components needed for successful Advanced Placement programs, such as access, quality assurance support, and credit transfer. Currently, there are 37 AP courses available in six content areas including English, Math and Computer Science, Science, History and Social Studies, and World Languages and Cultures, Arts. New AP courses are in the process of being designed as well.

Access to AP programs is limited. A 2015 study found that half of rural school districts do not have access to Advanced Placement courses, and 20% of school districts in towns also lacked AP programs. Thus, only a limited group of students, typically more affluent ones located in more urban environments, experience the benefits provided by AP coursework.

States looking to increase students’ participation in AP programs should provide schools with mechanisms that identify students historically underrepresented in AP courses and work with them through guidance counselors and educators to increase their participation. To increase low-income student participation, schools should develop exam fee subsidies and waivers. Finally, states should require schools to offer at least one AP course and mandate students take a college readiness test that will identify which ones are prepared for AP coursework.

The report cites Arkansas as a model for effective AP programs. In 1995, Arkansas adopted the “Arkansas Advanced Placement Incentive Program Act of 1995,” which made Arkansas the first state in the nation to have a comprehensive AP policy. Today, nearly half of high school graduates in Arkansas took at least one AP exam. Arkansas also saw the sixth largest percentage growth in the nation of students scoring three or higher on AP exams from 2003 to 2013.

The report says that states should also offer students pre-AP courses that prepare students in earlier grades for the more difficult, college-level material that will follow. Schools should offer teachers financial benefits for not only teaching AP courses, but based on students’ performances on the tests. For example, along with other incentives, teachers could earn a $50 for each student scoring a three or higher on an AP exam.

Finally, the report advises that students are not able to realize the full benefit of AP courses unless they are able to transfer the scores for college credits. Most colleges will accept a score of 3 for college credit, while more elite institutions will only accept a 4 or 5 and will sometimes limit the number of credits that can be transferred. Nevertheless, states should require all public two- and four- year institutions to award credit for AP exams, it says.

The benefits of transferring credits, such as reduced coursework and tuition in college, and the academic benefits of AP coursework should be fully advertised as an incentive to students to challenge themselves.

The full report is available online.