• Tue, Jan 22 2013

Grade Expectations: Dartmouth Refusing To Give Credit For AP Classes Only Hurts Students

Ap classesGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between.

When I was in high school, I took enough Advanced Placement classes to have my first semester of college completed before I even moved in to the dorms. I took AP Calculus, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Literature, Language, US History, World History and French. I worked my butt off to score 5′s on those tests. I spent hours in the offices of my professors. I convinced one amazing college math major named Greyling to tutor me out of the kindness of his heart. And when my senior year of high school was done, I felt proud of all that I had accomplished. When I went to college, I was academically prepared.

Obviously, I am a fan of the AP system. I think it rewards a lot of hard work done by high school students who are trying to get a leg up in college. It gives these students time and opportunity to take a semester abroad or explore other academic interests. And Dartmouth College is about to lose all of that, because they’re refusing to grant credit to students who passed their AP tests.

Ivy League schools have placed restrictions on the usage of AP credits for years. They only accept so many credits. Sometimes they only apply the credits to your electives and refuse to let them count for required courses in your field of study. Other schools only accept 4′s or 5′s, even though a 3 is still considered a passing grade. I can understand and appreciate these restrictions, especially given how rigorous these prestigious universities are.

However, refusing to grant any credit for these classes at all just doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to minimize a student’s hard work and accomplishment. And as some Dartmouth alumni have pointed out, it might just be an excuse to squeeze extra money from students who are already paying upwards of $50,000 a year.

According to Dartmouth, Advanced Placement courses have become too common-place. They believe that the classes are no longer the equivalent of an introductory college class, and that students who skip ahead due to AP classes aren’t prepared for their workload. All of these concerns pose serious problems and they deserve to be addressed, but simply ignoring AP credits all together is not the answer. Especially since the Dartmouth admissions team will doubtlessly still use AP classes and scores to decide who gets accepted. Basically, students will still have to take the classes and score well, they just won’t get any credit for the efforts anymore.

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  • chickadee

    I think it should be left entirely up to the colleges and universities to decide whether or not they give this kind of credit or not. Having participated in the scoring process and having had one child go through high school placement courses (and another currently doing so) I can tell you that the classes vary widely in the way they prepare (or fail to prepare) students for college. The very fact that the tests are standardized means that the results assume a one-size-fits-all approach — I can tell you that knowing how to pass the tests (and score highly) does not mean that you have necessarily attained the equivalent education that you would acquire by attending a college course on that subject.

    Students who wish to place out of courses are more than welcome to skip applying to institutions that will not accept the scores as credit.

  • Sarah

    It’s Dartmouth College, not Dartmouth University. As a Dartmouth alum, I have to disagree: I had several APs going in, and though I did get credit for some of them, I still couldn’t have graduated early with both of my majors. Nor would I have wanted to: the wonderful educational experience I had would have been diminished by trying to “get out” as quickly as possible.

  • Eileen

    The more prestigious and competitive the school, the less likely they are to take AP tests for credit. Placement? Sure. But not credit. Many of these schools offer generous financial aid, so paying for the additional credits isn’t a huge deal. But the main deal is that they’re just not college-level courses at these institutions.

    I took both AP US History and AP European history in high school, and scored a 5 and a 4 respectively. (Probably would have had two 5s if the tests hadn’t been on the same damn day, but whatever) The courses were challenging, and the exams were hard. Neither of them came close to the intro-level history courses I took as a college student. I didn’t say no to the 3 credits I got for AP Euro, but I’m a little bit sorry I never took intro European history in college because they were better classes, and I would have been better off in my mid-level courses had I taken them.

    At one point, AP courses might have been actual equivalents to courses taught at places like Dartmouth; I don’t know. They’re definitely not now. They may still be at some schools where admissions aren’t as demanding – I know my scores got me 15 credits at the university I attended, but would have been worth 30 at a school just a couple of subway stops away. And would have gotten me nothing at, say, Yale.

  • LiberalArts

    This is hardly a revolutionary move. As an Amherst College alum who graduated high school with innumerable AP credits yet received no credit from them at school, I applaud Amherst’s (and apparently, Dartmouth’s) policy decision. An AP classroom does not compare to a liberal arts introductory experience, nor will it properly pave the way for students to become immersed in the various departments at the school. If anything, I wish I could have an extra year at Amherst, rather than a way to abbreviate such an incredibly valuable experience.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    I took several AP courses and scored enough that my university would accept them, but didn’t bother to “cash them in” and took the first-year classes in those subjects anyway. It was a smart move – those courses were basically on a different planet from what I learned in high school. AP is quite flawed in its application.

  • Shea

    I think this decision is a bit unfortunate in terms of the financial help that AP credits can be to students entering college, but if Dartmouth’s concern is students’ academic achievements, I see no problem with this policy. Maybe your AP classes were different, but mine bore absolutely no relation to college courses, except in the amount of work expected. They were simply classes that covered more subject matter and expected a greater amount of busywork than your average college class. There was none of the intellectual rigor one expects from a university class, and as such I don’t think one should automatically get college credit.

  • K.

    I’ve taught at the college-level AND high-school level, both introductory and 300-level college courses and AP courses for HS students. I’m with Dartmouth on this one.

    First of all, it is not a college or university’s job to “reward students for all their hard work” or “give credit for their efforts” (and by the way, if a college factors AP credits into admissions decisions, then that IS giving the student credit for their efforts). College and universities set academic standards that students are expected to reach in order to graduate. If such institutions determine that the AP credit is hindering, rather than helping, students achieve those standards, then I would say doing away with the AP credit altogether is probably the best choice.

    Doing away with AP credit is more democratic and fair to ALL students because not all schools offer APs (many do, but many are unable to offer APs in every single subject area) and therefore, not all matriculating students are able to enter college with such credits. If an institution admits students on the basis of their HS record, which presumes every student is able to handle the academic load as an undergraduate, then it is unfair to allow some students the ability to pass out of intro-level classes, because taking an AP is also a matter of institutional access, not just individual effort. (This is different than how APs are factored into admissions procedures, as most colleges will know (or can research) the type of academic program offered at different HS’s and they’re not going to penalize a student’s admission chances on the basis of having no APs on their transcript if the school doesn’t offer them.)

    Second, as a HS teacher, who teaches AP classes, I can honestly say that I work very, very hard to NOT “teach for the test;” however, it’s extremely difficult because of the sheer scope of the material we have to cover. Teachers in certain HS also feel that there is a great deal of administrative and parental expectation that students pass the exam, which translates to pressure specifically to ‘teach for the test.’

    Third, when I taught at the college-level, I found that students who had passed out of intro classes via AP credit were simply not prepared as well as the rest of their classmates. There are several reasons for this–most students who pass out are Freshmen and some struggle with the adjustment of being in college in general, which affects their classwork; some students took their AP in sophomore or junior year in HS which leaves at least 1 entire year for the knowledge base to get a little rusty–but the biggest one I saw was that the AP-credit students had the most deficits when it came to analytical and critical thinking skills. And going back to my second point, part of that comes from the fact that with such a tremendous body of knowledge a lot of AP courses are expected to cover (for example, art history from cave paintings to 20th-century, all of Europe, all of the US, plus China, Japan, Africa, South America), it is difficult to craft an AP course that doesn’t emphasize memorization and regurgitation. Fast-forward to college, and that’s how you get students who come in that are whizzes at multiple-choice and short answer, but can’t write an essay, don’t know how to research or how to cite, let alone write a research paper, or even read higher-level scholarship critically.

    At the end of the day, Dartmouth has decided, presumably on the advice of academic departments, that it’s better for their students’ intellectual and academic development to disallow AP credit. And that’s what college is about–it’s not about using academics to pat HS kids on the back for past work. The admissions letter might be that, but that should change once the kid is actually there.

    • Mistie

      As a high school English teacher who is currently teaching the AP Lang and Comp course, I completely agree. I tell all of my students even if they want to take the test, they should consider taking the intro level classes at college as well. Not only is it a good experience, but you can learn more about the college/university’s expectations.

    • Bluebelle

      Absolutely. Excellent, excellent points.

  • Daisy

    At my high school, almost nobody took the official AP tests, because our teachers told us it really wasn’t worth it: taking intro courses at university was a far better experience than getting credit for those intro courses at high school. They told us the real benefits of taking AP classes were being in a class with similarly academic-minded students, getting to do the extra enrichment projects, and getting the bonus marks. Zero people from my graduating class took the AP exams, but the AP classes were always full and competitive to get into (except maybe physics!). However, I can understand that if you did go to a high school with the expectation of getting credit for AP, it would be frustrating not to.

    Also, I have to laugh at the guy who worried he wouldn’t be able to complete a double major without overloading. At my university, it is very rare to finish your degree in 4 years at all. Between the B.Ed. program, the co-op program, independent studies, double majors, and just plain taking lighter semesters, almost everybody takes 5 or 6 years to graduate. So I really can’t relate to thinking it’s a big deal not to cram everything into a four-year degree.

    • Blueathena623

      Uh, it’s a big deal when you are paying for those years.

  • Dartalum

    Dartmouth is a college. It’s called Dartmouth College. Not Dartmouth University.

  • cancan

    It completely depends on the quality of education. In my experience (I didn’t go to a prestigious university/college), AP helped “get out off” taking a couple of electives and fulfill basic degree requirements. At my university, the intro-level classes are far inferior to the level of teaching I received in my public high school based on class size alone. My high school teachers were deeply invested in trying to replicate what they interpreted the college experience to be, which included drilling us on grammar, having after-school study groups, multi-media presentations, Socratic seminars, anything that would help. When I got to college. me and all my former classmates had a good laugh about how easy it was and how some college students could barely form paragraphs. Just by taking a look at rateyourprofessor, you’ll see pages of commentary from students who slept their way to C’s. I’m a junior and my class numbers are just now getting below 100. I say in the world we live, where an undergraduate degree is the basic requirement to get a decent job, save your money, and go to a place where you can get out of those gen-ed classes as fast as you can, and get on with your career (unless you have youth and finances on your side).

  • Bluebelle

    I remember going over AP courses with my guidance counselor for my junior and senior year schedules. My school offered AP calculus, American history, British lit, chemistry, and physics. That was it. My guidance counselor tried to push these classes on me because they “would help getting into good colleges immensely.” Even though I had the grades to enroll in the AP classes, I didn’t particularly like any of those subjects. Instead, I continued with diverse honors and level 1 classes and felt I was better for it, but who really knows? Had I enrolled in AP physics would I be a completely different person? Would it really have mattered much in terms of saving money when the university I ended up enrolling in was highly discriminatory regarding what extra credits they accepted and those they didn’t? Probably not.

    I went on to graduate summa cum laude from undergrad and went to a big ol’ university in the United Kingdom for graduate school. My point is, a lot of stuff you do doesn’t really matter. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Blah blah blah a bunch of other Dad-spirations that may be cliche but are spot-on. I think, ultimately, Dartmouth is solidifying that it’s not your qualifications, but rather your experience that matters.

    As a panacea to this, though not absolute for some universities, study abroad is often an affordable alternative for those studying at private universities–especially if you study outside of Western Europe or Australia (for public universities the cost may be higher or the same depending on the foreign university, program or country). Cuts down on the cost for a semester or two, classes are approved before you go, and the experience is excellent (socially, academically, culturally, etc). I’d like to see more universities and high schools promoting international study rather than AP credits.

  • somethingobscure

    I went to an Ivy League school that did not accept AP credits. They used your AP scores as placements or guides for what classes you should take when you arrived on campus, but they didn’t allow you to graduate a semester early using your bank of AP 5′s. This didn’t bother me in the least because I didn’t want to graduate early, so I didn’t really think about it at the time. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that the coursework, professors, quality of material, and level of excellence that was expected of us was light years ahead of my high school AP classes. Whether I was taking the same sort of classes or not (which I didn’t), it was pretty irrelevant. There was tremendous value in being enrolled full time in college for 4 years and taking a full course load each semester. I think Darthmouth is perfectly logical not offering actual credit for AP classes and expecting their students to study there for a full 4 years. You can say it’s money grubbing, and maybe for some administrators it is, but there is no way that a few AP 5′s are the equivalent of a semester or a year at Dartmouth. Plus, the kids who are trying to get into Ivy League schools will not be deterred by the lack of credit; they’re taking those classes to challenge themselves and to have a shot at getting in. I’ve been doing interviews for perspective students this past week, and I’m amazed at how many APs some kids can rack up; they take summer school to get requirements out of the way so they can take the most AP classes possible. I highly doubt it is because they are looking to graduate from college in three years; it’s because they are ambitious and/or seeking a challenge.

  • AP

    I completely understand why colleges are eliminating AP credit. I was one of the last classes in my high school with a GPA prerequisite for AP courses. The grades behind me had open enrollment, where all you needed to take an AP course was a permission slip from your parents. The reason? US News and World Report started ranking high schools by # of AP students/total # of students. High-ranking suburban high schools started converting more and more high school classes into AP level, and failing urban schools started throwing kids into AP courses “because it would make them more ready for college.”

    This completely watered down the experience of AP classes. Instead of being taught at a college level to engage the brightest students, they were taught at the level required to get the B students to pass the exam with a 3, so they could get credit in the state university system. Of course good colleges want no part of this.