Dartmouth College recently announced that beginning with the entering class of 2018, credit will no longer be granted for Advanced Placement, A-Level, or International Baccalaureate exams. Faculty at the prestigious institution voted to do away with the practice, asserting that AP courses are not as rigorous as actual college classes. Test scores may still be used for placement, but students won’t be able to submit them to substitute coursework or save on tuition.
The decision wasn’t made lightly, with faculty reportedly mulling it over for the better part of a decade before arriving at this conversation-starting verdict. According to an Associated Press report, Dartmouth’s psychology department conducted a study in which incoming students who earned the highest scores on AP tests were given a condensed version of a final exam instead of being granted credit for introductory courses. Not only did 90% of those students fail the final exam, but when they did take the introductory courses, they didn’t perform any better than students who did not earn high AP exam scores.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press also reported that Advanced Placement is actually growing quickly right now. In 2011, 18% of high school graduates in the U.S. passed at least one AP exam, which is up from 11% ten years ago. Critics of the program argue that its burgeoning popularity has produced “watered down” courses that offer more test preparation than college preparation, while proponents maintain that offering students college credit for AP exam scores helps them graduate on time or early and helps reduce the ever-rising cost of tuition.
Could Dartmouth’s decision mark the beginning of the end of AP credit as we know it? At the very least, it raises some important questions. While the findings of the psychology department’s study only represent a single student body at a single school, many view the Ivies as the arbiters of progress and achievement in American higher education, and one has to wonder if other colleges and universities will begin to follow suit. Perhaps Dartmouth’s administrators feel compelled to hold the school to a more exacting standard, which is understandable to some degree, but, at least in my opinion, one school's judgment that their classes cannot be duly substituted with AP courses does not diminish the program’s value or integrity. But it’s up to high school educators to ensure that AP coursework is sufficiently demanding so that the students who take advantage of them will be adequately prepared for more advanced college courses and so colleges and universities will continue to view them as credible.
As someone who earned AP credit for several college classes, I’m a strong supporter of the program. I was able to save money on tuition, I was challenged but not overly so by the sophomore-level courses I was able to take as a freshman, and I was able to graduate a semester early. So while I understand the need for colleges and universities to scrutinize what they will and won’t accept for credit, I for one suspect that, in the long run, Dartmouth will prove to be the exception and not the rule. I see a great deal of merit in the AP program and hope that students, colleges and universities, and educators like you will continue to work together to reap its many benefits.
What do you think of Dartmouth’s decision? Share your thoughts below.