Advanced Placement May Not be so Advanced

Inflated resumes for college applications are a trend of the current age. Students are forced to compete with the best of the best and spend most of their high school careers building their appeal. With college application rates soaring and less students being accepted, the pressure is growing for high school hopefuls. Advanced Placement courses were created for students performing at superior levels and soon became a status symbol on applications. But with more and more students taking these exclusive classes questions are raised about the validity of the course content as “advanced”.
Since the creation of Advanced Placement courses there has been no significant increase in high school standardized testing scores. It would seem that students studying more rigorous material would score higher than their counter-parts in “average” classrooms. A recent study by the Federal Department of Education demonstrates that participation in Advanced Placement coursework does not indicate a measureable higher level of learning for most students.

One theory to explain the plateau of student performance suggests that course titles are inflated beyond the content they provide. Advanced Placement Algebra II may differ little from a regular Algebra I course. A similar study was administered by William H. Schmidt at Michigan State University in which textbooks from a spectrum of course levels were evaluated. Results concluded that “the titles didn’t reveal much at all about how advanced the course was,” Schmidt told the New York Times.
Some argue that student success may be hard to judge based solely on federal standardized testing. When students know their performance on such tests has no impact on their achievement, motivation to do well decreases. But Advanced Placement test scores tell a different story. With Advanced Placement scores being a factor in college course placement, students have motivation to perform. Percentages of students scoring low on AP tests are rising, suggesting that they are not absorbing course content.
Despite the data highlighting flaws in the Advanced Placement programs, supporters still assert that exposure to rigorous material provides benefits for students whether or not they are performing well. And the trend towards Advanced Placement courses continues to rise. 13 percent of college applications currently show participation in accelerated coursework, compared to 5 percent in 1990.