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Dartmouth downgrades use of AP scores
Question of the Day
CONCORD, N.H. — High school students hoping to earn college credits through Advanced Placement exams soon will be out of luck at Dartmouth College, which has concluded the tests aren’t as rigorous as its own classes.
In a move than could have reverberations for ambitious high schoolers across the country, the faculty of the Ivy League school, which currently awards credit in some academic subjects for qualifying scores on AP, International Baccalaureate (IB) and A-level exams taken in high school, recently voted to end the practice starting with the class of 2018.
“The concern that we have is that increasingly, AP has been seen as equivalent to a college-level course, and it really isn’t, in our opinion,” said Hakan Tell, a classics professor and chairman of the college’s Committee on Instruction.
Dartmouth’s decision comes at a time of rapid growth for Advanced Placement tests. Some 2 million students took 3.7 million AP tests last spring, figures that have more than doubled in the last decade. In 2011, 18 percent of U.S. high school graduates passed at least one AP exam (by scoring at least a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5), up from 11 percent a decade ago.
But the program also has faced criticism that its growing popularity has resulted in watered-down courses.
“Many high schools have made their AP courses little more than test prep,” said Bob Schaeffer, of FairTest: National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “The common criticism is that they’re a mile wide and a quarter-inch deep.”
Dartmouth also still believes AP courses are useful in preparing students for college and will continue to use test scores to help place students in appropriate courses, Mr. Tell emphasized, and students who may have wanted to use AP credit to graduate early will have other options. But he pointed to an experiment undertaken by the college’s psychology department as proof that AP courses often fall short.
Rather than award credit for an introductory course to incoming students who got the highest score on the AP test, the department gave those students a condensed version of the Dartmouth course’s final exam. Ninety percent failed, Mr. Tell said. And when those students went on to take the introductory class, they performed no better than those who did not have the high AP test scores.
Suril Kantaria, president of the student body at the university in Hanover, N.H., called the change prudent given that high school AP classes are rarely as rigorous as Dartmouth courses.
Students with AP credits “often opt to graduate early instead of taking challenging upper-level classes,” he said. “This trend challenges the spirit of intellectual growth and discovery that pervades our institution.”
But Kate Lyon, a 2005 graduate, said Dartmouth has made a terrible decision. Ms. Lyon, who double-majored in history and psychology, estimates she saved her parents about $15,000 by using her AP credit to graduate in 11 terms instead of 12.
“Tuition costs at Dartmouth are rising every year and a decision like this seems to show very little regard for the fact that students struggle to pay for college,” said Ms. Lyon, the oldest of four siblings. “I got just as much out of my Dartmouth experience as someone who took classes all four years, … but it cost me less to do it.”
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