Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 | Before I moved to France, I taught AP psychology at a college preparatory school in San Francisco. I still check the Web for stories about the AP program, which is how I came across your fine story Wednesday about the program.
As you point out, the newly required certification by the College Board does not insure a quality AP program — merely that schools will submit a quality syllabus. The only real quality assurance colleges have is the score that students receive on the AP exam.
There are a host of problems with the way the program is currently constituted.
First, in many schools, students taking AP classes are not required to take the AP exams.
Second, even when students do take the exams, schools are rewarded by magazines like Newsweek, which ranks schools without regard to how the students actually do on the tests. Hence there are many high school test factories which have abysmal AP test results but nevertheless become highly ranked schools.
Third, approximately half of all AP exams are taken by high school seniors. The results of those exams are not available until July, long after colleges have made admissions’ decisions.
The bottom line is that the real yardstick colleges should use to judge whether a student has mastered AP level material is the student’s score on the AP exam. As a cumulative measure it is also the way to judge whether a given school is delivering a quality AP program.
However, one of your criticisms of AP is inapt, at least as regards AP psychology. Both the class as taught by the many high school teachers with whom I have had contact and the AP exam are first-rate. I have also spoken with many college psychology professors who grade the exam. Those instructors uniformly agree that the high school AP class is college-level in all senses of the word.