Yale Professor Urges College Board to Raise Standards For Advanced Placement Exams

The College Entrance Examination Board’s scoring of Advanced Placement (AP) exams is unrealistically inflated, says William Lichten, professor emeritus of physics at Yale and a fellow of the Institution of Social and Policy Studies, in a newly-published article.

Analyzing how colleges use the AP test scores to assign course credit or exempt students from introductory classes, Lichten finds, “The College Board’s scale and claims for AP qualification disagree seriously with college standards.”

AP classes are college-level courses offered by high schools. At the conclusion of each course, students take an examination administered by the College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB). According to the CEEB, a grade of 3 indicates that a student is qualified to receive college credit or advanced placement in that subject. Lichten found in his sample that half of selective colleges require a 4 for a passing grade.

Since the inception of the program in 1953, “There is firm evidence that the average test performance level has dropped,” Lichten argues. AP scores have become inflated, along with grades. A score of 3, like a course grade of C, used to indicate acceptable mastery of a subject. Now, Lichten says, both a C and an AP score of 3 suggest inadequate mastery.

Some states require all high schools to offer AP courses. Some states-California, for one-give students who take AP courses an advantage in the admissions process. Initiatives like these encourage the AP program to expand, and high school students to enroll who are not ready for college-level work. They attend the classes, but are unable to master the subject matter on a college level. In addition, some state legislatures require public universities and colleges to accept an AP score of 3 as satisfactory. When that happens, students are to allowed register for classes for which they are inadequately prepared.

Lichten recommends that the College Board’s “policy of concentrating on numbers of participants should be changed to an emphasis on student performance and program quality.”

The article, “Whither Advanced Placement?” appeared in the June 24 issue of Education Policy Analysis Archives, a peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. The article can be found at http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v8n29.html.

To reach Professor Lichten, call 203-387-5730 or send e-mail to william.lichten@yale.edu.

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