High schools around the nation offer a slate of Advanced Placement courses in which students can take more difficult classes to possibly earn college credit. A year's worth of hard work in the classroom culminates in the dreaded final examination — the one factor that decides whether or not students receive credit at the college level. Yet, AP classes and college courses aren’t equal. The procedures set in place by the College Board and universities across the country cheat deserving students out of college credit, causing them to repeat course work. To ensure students don’t waste time relearning material, more colleges should accept all passing scores for credit and not just top scores.
AP classes provide rigorous academic course work for hardworking students. The College Board offers 38 different courses ranging in subject from math and science to art history and language arts. Millions of students enroll in AP classes each year. Students are evaluated on their proficiency on the AP exam: a final exam given by the College Board that is scored on a 1-5 scale. While the AP curriculum can aid students in preparing for a college workload, AP classes and college classes aren’t equivalent. They are structured differently. Students are often coerced into enrolling in these classes with the argument that they’ll be able to get college credit at a low cost.
For many students, this isn’t the case. Many private and top-tier colleges and universities don’t accept AP credit at all, as they want students to take their versions of certain courses. Other colleges allow students to opt out of an introductory level, constraining them to complete more challenging classes to fulfill degree requirements. At JMU, students can use AP credit as an exemption from general education courses. However, JMU rarely accepts scores below a four. The university only accepts threes from a few of the courses listed, and for some classes, they only accept a five.
According to the College Board website, students who receive a three on an AP exam are “qualified” in the material. Despite this, a majority of colleges don’t accept threes, leading students to repeat classes in which they’ve already demonstrated competence. A three is estimated to demonstrate a B-minus, C or C-minus. In 1999, only 64% of AP students received a three or higher. Today, the score distribution varies from test to test, but around 65-75% of students pass each exam. A passing rate of 64%, however, is low for an introductory college course, which demonstrates the high level of difficulty of the test. At JMU, students only need to receive a letter grade of C to get credit for general education requirements, and some students could even argue that the AP exam is more rigorous and detailed than actual college exams.
High school students are expected to perform at a higher level of excellence than actual college students, as they are assessed for credit solely on one exam. Fitting the college experience in a high school setting can pose challenges. College courses are designed to be taken on a semester long basis, meeting multiple times a week and requiring a hefty portion of study time outside of class. In high school, students attend school for seven hours each day, leaving little time to study and read outside of class.
For what once was a non-profit organization, the College Board has earned an exorbitant amount of money through the transformation of their business. In 2013, the College Board President made a base salary of $550,000. Capitalizing on high school students, the company has been able to create an almost total monopoly over the testing industry. 5,090,324 students took AP exams in 2018, and the fee to take a test in 2019 is $94. Considering the large revenue of the company, the motives of the College Board can be questionable.
While AP courses offer some benefits to students, other options like International Baccalaureate or dual enrollment courses may be more advantageous in the long run. JMU should recognize the work of AP students and start honoring more threes for credit.
Diana Witt is a freshman theatre and media arts and design double major. Contact Diana at email@example.com.