Email Status

Volume 26, Number 3
May/June 2010

Putting AP to the Test

New research assesses the Advanced Placement program


Originating in the 1950s, the Advanced Placement (AP)program has evolved from its original mission to provide college-level work to a small group of gifted high school students into an expansive program offering 37 courses. Nearly three million high schoolers took one or more of the optional AP end-of-course exams last year. A new book, AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program(Harvard Education Press, 2010), looks at recent research on the strengths, weaknesses, and impact of the program. Co-editor Philip M. Sadler, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University and the director of the Science Education Department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, spoke with HEL contributor Lucy Hood.

What accounts for the growth of the AP program in recent years?
There are a number of factors. One is the increasing competition for students to be admitted to elite colleges and universities. Admissions offices have to figure out who are the most qualified candidates. One standardized measure is whether kids have passed these AP exams. One of the points I make in the book is that because of grade inflation at the high school level, there are a lot of kids who graduate from high school at the very high end, getting all A’s or A minuses, so adding in extra points for AP courses means the distribution is less crunched at the end.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.