A new report examining the Advanced Placement program explores how many public high schools in the United States offer AP classes and how the programs differ in student performance.
Written by Nat Malkus, the paper, “The AP Peak: Public Schools Offering Advanced Placement, 2000-2012,” takes a closer look at the percentage of schools that offer AP programs, how they differ by their history of AP programs, and how the AP programs differ by average student performance at various schools.
The Advanced Placement program is offered across the United States, with students looking to participate because earning credits can offer additional post-secondary opportunities as well as college credits. Malkus writes that schools who offer AP courses do so in order to signify that they are offering a quality education. In addition, colleges and universities believe this to be the case as well, since many link the completion of AP courses with receiving college credit, in addition to rating schools with AP highly, or pushing to expand AP programs in public schools.
Malkus continues to say that the AP program has become important in state education systems across the country, in large part because states themselves typically do not focus on advanced coursework. State education systems that are looking to increase the performance of low-achieving students tend to look to AP courses to help offer advanced work in public high schools.
Between 2000 and 2008, Malkus discovered the percentage of schools offering AP programs jumped from 71% to 79%. However, between 2008 and 2012, the percentage decreased at the same rate. Malkus attributes this to the first meaningful decline in public school AP offerings.
He also found small, rural, and low-income schools less likely to offer AP courses. These schools were found to have the largest increases between 2000 and 2008 in addition to pushing the decline between 2008 and 2012.
Malkus said that a strong relationship was found between student preparedness and the viability of the AP program. Schools that had higher academic achievement tended to have more AP course offerings, saw a higher student participation rate, and higher AP exam passage rate than lower-performing schools.
In order for school leaders to move forward and offer AP courses to more students, Malkus suggests an expansion of AP opportunities so long as the quality of the program is maintained, adding that it is not a good idea to offer these courses when there are too few students prepared to handle the work involved. When this happens, he said schools should focus on preparing students and developing a demand for AP courses.
“Moving forward, it is vital that school leaders consider efforts to improve AP access in the context of its demand. On its face, expanding AP sounds great, but care is needed when school leaders face tough choices about how to allocate their limited resources”
A previous report, “AP at Scale: Public School Students in Advanced Placement, 1990–2013,” saw the author exploring AP level student participation between 1990 and 2013, showing a steady increase in the number of high school graduates who earn AP credit. In that report, he found a gap in AP participation for various student groups.