Advanced Placement Programs
The Advanced Placement Program (APP) is an early college option program in which high school students take college classes for credit to get a head start on college-level coursework. This article discusses five Advanced Placement (AP) programmatic elements: (1) courses and classes; (2) teachers; (3) students; (4) examinations; and (5) credit. External AP examinations administered by the College Board are used to validate AP college-level courses. Students may also be granted advanced placement or standing which may exempt them from certain introductory-level courses and permit them to take higher-level courses in the subject area. Although the APP has traditionally been directed to a very select population of highly qualified students, there have been renewed efforts in recent years to expand access and participation for rural, low-income, and minority students.
The Advanced Placement Program (APP) is an early college option program in which students take college classes for credit, get a head start on college-level coursework, and prepare for more advanced college studies. It is a method by which students can accelerate their academic college programs and thus get a time-shortened college education. By abbreviating the length of students' undergraduate experience, the APP can save them the cost of a semester or even a year of college-level credit in the subject area.
The APP, designed by the College Entrance Examination Board or College Board, assists American high school students in bridging secondary and postsecondary education so as to create a more seamless grades 11-16 education. The APP has specific curricular requirements and offers exams in thirty-four collegelevel courses in six major subject areas (College Board, 2013b; see Table 1). Outstanding secondary students -- typically high school juniors and seniors -- can enroll in, take, complete and receive credit in one or more college-level courses in different subjects that are taught at their own high schools.
By 2006, approximately 60 percent of high schools were offering their students an APP and a college-level curriculum in at least some advanced placement (AP) subjects (Marklein, 2006). The majority of these high schools provide college-credit AP courses in multiple curricular, content, or subject areas.
At one time, the APP was accessible to only a small percentage of students. It has historically been almost universally available in more affluent school districts. There has been a push over the past decade to make AP classes more inclusive by inviting a broader cross-section of students. To facilitate this, many states have programs that allow high-school students to take collegelevel AP courses tuition free. As a result of these efforts, large percentages of freshmen entering college programs submit AP scores for consideration.
Subject Area APP Courses and Exams Art Art History Studio Art Biology Biology Calculus Calculus AB Calculus BC Chemistry Chemistry Chinese Chinese Language and Culture Computer Science Computer Science A Computer Science AB Economics Macroeconomics Microeconomics English English Language English Literature International English Environmental Science Environmental Science French French Language French Literature Geography Human Geography German German Language Government and Politics Comparative Government and Politics U.S. Government and Politics History European History U.S. History World History Italian Italian Language and Culture Japanese Japanese Language and Culture Latin Latin Literature Latin: Vergil Music Music Theory Physics Physics B Physics C Psychology Psychology Spanish Spanish Language Spanish Literature Statistics Statistics
External AP examinations administered in May of each year by the College Board are used to validate the college-level courses taken by students. A satisfactory, acceptable, or passing level of performance on the AP examinations scored by the College Board serve as a basis for credit and/or advanced placement. Colleges and universities review students' scores and grant units of AP credit that apply toward their graduation requirements in a number of instructional areas (see Table 2).
AP credits are important in the selection of students for admission to colleges and universities. In fact, most colleges and universities cooperate and develop agreements with the APP and high schools participating in the program. There are also nonhigh school-focused APPs in which high school students take AP classes in community or other colleges and receive dual credit. Most states, in fact, also require the availability of dual enrollment programs that are both school and college based.
History of the APP
The APP was created and launched by the College Entrance Examination Board (College Board) in 1955 (Manzo, 2004; Ranborn, 1983). The College Board is a New York City-based nonprofit association and the founder and sponsor of the APP. The organization oversees and manages the APP, develops course summaries for the various AP courses, and develops, administers, and redesigns 34 AP exams annually (College Board, 2013b). The mandate of the program was to provide high-achieving students access to college-level coursework while still in high school. Since its establishment, the program has undergone many changes, had various problems, and yet has seen steadily increasing demand and growth.
Student participation in the APP has grown from 1,229 in the 1955-56 school year to over 2.2 million in 2012-13 (College Board, 2013a). The number of AP courses nearly doubled from 1982 to 1990 (Cetron & Gayle, 1991). The percentage of high school students graduating with advanced-placement credit in Iowa, for example, in 1987 was 2.2, which ranked it 49th among the states. By comparison, Utah, the national leader in that year, had 26.6 percent of its high school students graduating with advanced placement credit (Cetron & Gayle, 1991).
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the APP was growing at approximately 10 percent each year (Ranborn, 1983). The programs continued to grow dramatically during the decade from 1995 to 2005. Around the turn of the twenty-first century, the APP was made up of 31 college-level courses and exams in 19 subject areas that were taught in 65 different countries, including the United States. (Reising, 2000; Rothschild, 1999). The APP served 18,920 schools in the 2012-13 school year (College Board, 2013a). The numbers of courses, examinations, subject areas, schools, and participating countries in the APP continue to grow.
The following section will summarize and describe five basic elements related to the APP. These AP programmatic elements, which will be discussed in turn, are (a) courses and classes, (b) teachers, (c) students, (d) examinations, and (e) credit (see Table 2).
Element Description Courses and classes Comprehensive, rigorous, demanding, academically challenging, intellectually stimulating, collegelevel introductory, relevant, fast-paced, accelerated, enriched, continuous-progress-curricular Teachers Specially and specifically certified, among the best, highly experienced, excellent credentials, strong backgrounds, better-educated, more highly-paid Students 11th and 12th-grade (high school juniors and seniors), academically superior, high-ability, high-achieving, exceptional, honors, gifted/talented, better-prepared, bright, inquisitive, high-potential, motivated, goal-oriented, high-intellect, scholarly Examinations End-of-course, achievement, aptitude, competency, qualifying, performance-oriented, placement-focused, norm-referenced, standardized, high-stakes, comparative, college-level, credit-earning, with multiple choice- and free-response item types Credit Earned, awarded, granted, score-dependent, performance-based, college-level, placement, advanced-standing, certifying, qualifying, proficiency-verified, graduation-requirement-applied, curriculum-requirement-fulfilled, assigned, recognized-status
The College Board sponsors, audits, and reviews high school AP courses and oversees how they are carried out (Klein, 2006). It evaluates and approves course syllabi, which are required to meet the APP curricular requirements. Regular college-level coursework is taken and completed on a part-time basis by students to receive college-level credit while still enrolled in high school.
The level of work of AP courses, which is equivalent to those of an introductory college curriculum, offers numerous benefits to high school students. The courses are meant to reflect the greater rigor of college-level work and to prepare students for more advanced college study. Subjects are delved into in greater detail and depth. Compared to high school courses, there is an increased workload and greater preparation is required. Students may not only get into more selective colleges and universities based on their participation in the APP, but they also may have greater success once they get there.
AP courses have traditionally been characterized by both vertical acceleration involving more advanced work and horizontal enrichment involving more intellectually stimulating curricula (Olson, 1964). In light of criticisms that AP courses were trying to cover too much content with too great an emphasis on memorization, the APP decided to redesign its science and history curricula in particular to increase the depth of learning and somewhat decrease its breadth going forward (Packer, 2011). AP classes offer "college-like" seminars with group discussions for secondary school "scholars." Students are able to improve their critical thinking, creative problem-solving, reasoning, and writing skills. They can develop better study habits and have opportunities for individual work and independent research.
There is an ever-increasing availability, access to, and participation in AP courses in all or most high schools across every state. They are offered many times in nearby area colleges as well. AP courses can also be offered in online classes, in which case, course materials, assignments, and due dates are posted for the convenience of students. Online classes, which offer advantages in relation to scheduling and flexibility in timing, better prepare high school students for their college careers by helping them to take AP courses and earn college credit while still in high school.
AP courses prepare students for AP examinations. However, students are not required to take AP courses in order to take AP exams. With passing scores on the exams, the AP courses are listed on students' high school transcripts.
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