A big decision takes place Thursday, October 18, in the Anchorage School District when a new English Language Arts 6-8 curriculum will be selected by a committee of ELA teachers. I am on this committee. Two of the three top choices are SpringBoard, a pre-Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum designed by CollegeBoard, and My Perspectives, which is produced by Pearson.
The article I read this week is titled The Impact of Participation in the Advanced Placement Program on Students’ College Admissions Test Scores. If you are unfamiliar with the AP program, here is the definition: “The Advanced Placement program is an educational program that permits high school students to take introductory college-level courses and receive college credit by passing a standardized end-of-course exam” (Warne, Larsen, Anderson, Odasso). Basically, the AP program was intended to close the academic achievement gaps between high school and college. AP classes are often classified as rigorous, covering information, skills, and types of assessments found in college courses.
The article, published in The Journal of Educational Research, details the study’s purpose, methods, data sources, results, discussion and conclusion. While reading the article, I jumped to the conclusion right away. This sentence stood out: “Overall, we believe that we have found strong empirical evidence that participation in AP English and AP calculus courses is not beneficial to students who merely enroll in the courses, has some benefits to students who take the AP exam but do not pass it, and is most beneficial to those students who take and pass the exam” (Warne, Larsen, Anderson, Odasso).
The article goes on to note Doughtery and Mellor’s (2010) opinion, which is that “it matters greatly whether students take and pass AP exams. There is li
ttle evidence that simply increasing the number of students taking AP courses will have an impact … if students do not demonstrate mastery on the exams” (p. 220).
This statement leads me to a few of my own questions: Should all regular education language arts students in the Anchorage School District be exposed to pre-AP curriculum? Also, is our goal to prepare students for college or is that an unrealistic expectation? I’ve seen the pre-AP language arts curriculum material and it is certainly rigorous, but hardly engaging.
The final conclusion in this article is a statement that matches the data and it seem appropriately worded: “Thus, this study provides evidence that for college-bound high school students, proficiency in AP courses may be a helpful component to their high school education” (Warne, Larsen, Anderson, Odasso). This was a predictable conclusion. I would not have expected a study to conclude that AP courses don’t impact high school students.
Therefore, I dug a little deeper into my research and found a study called Impact of Advanced Grade 8 U.S. History on Participation and Performance in Advanced Placement Social Studies Courses in Grade 9, which was conducted by the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. To my understanding, this study was not peer reviewed, but it helped me understand the impact 100 percent AP participation has had on a school district. This study concluded that more high school students took and earned a college-ready AP score on the U.S. History exam after AP curriculum was implemented in all middle schools across this district, but it also concluded that fewer students than expected enrolled in AP social studies courses in Grade 9.
The study recommended that schools with an AP focus should increase the access/availability to Grade 9 students. It also recommends more research on best practices of middle schools who implement 100 percent participation in advanced Grade 8 U.S. History. In other words, perhaps more professional development is needed to educators teaching advanced courses. This leads me to my final question: If the Anchorage School District is going to implement pre-AP curriculum across all middle schools, will all language arts teachers receive the necessary professional development to deliver this curriculum?
Russell T. Warne, Ross Larsen, Braydon Anderson & Alyce J. Odasso (2015) The Impact of Participation in the Advanced Placement Program on Students’ College Admissions Test Scores, The Journal of Educational Research, 108:5, 400-416, DOI: 10.1080/00220671.2014.917253