AP credit still valuable at 'U'

Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 14, 2006

The Ivy League usually sets the bar for academic standards in higher education. But several University programs appear to be stepping off the ivy-lined path when it comes to accepting Advanced Placement scores for credit.

A recent study by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Virginia found high AP scores do not ensure success in the counterpart subject in college.

This report, combined with other worries from faculty about the equivalence of the programs, have prompted many universities to reconsider the weight they give to AP credit, especially at Ivy League schools.

Most University departments, though, are not among them.

The University has no campus-wide policy for accepting AP credit.

Like most universities, it allows each school and relevant department to set its own policy regarding AP credit.

Most departments review AP standards at least every few years.

According to College Board spokeswoman Jennifer Topiel, the board, which administers AP tests, disputes the findings.

Unlike recently published findings, the majority of research on AP students' performance in college indicates that they perform as well as, if not better than, their peers who took the equivalent college classes.

Rapid growth of the AP program in recent years has prompted the board to examine course quality across the United States.

The board is currently conducting an audit of 15,000 high schools with AP programs to ensure courses are certified and up to national guidelines, Topiel said.

Most of the quality concern is directed at AP math and science programs.

At the University, the biology and chemistry departments accept scores of three or above for some form of credit in introductory classes.

The College of Engineering maintains higher standards for chemistry and calculus exams than LSA does because of their centrality to the field, said Mercedes Barcia, director of engineering's advising center.

Biology Prof. Bob Bender said he is confident that AP scores are an accurate measure of a student's understanding of first-year concepts.

Data collected by his department indicate that students with AP credit do slightly better in second-year courses than students who took the course at the University, he said.

Chemistry Prof. Brian Coppola also said similar research indicates students scoring a three or above on the AP chemistry exam were adequately prepared for second-year courses at the University.

Coppola said his department tends to be generous with credit so that students can move into more specialized courses like organic chemistry.

LSA Junior Jacki Fisher, who took both the chemistry and biology AP exams, said because of the strength of her high school program she was prepared for second-year course work.

However, Fisher said other factors, such as the structure of a college class, the way material is presented and intensive lab work, can't always be simulated by an AP course.

Bender said that for concentrators, multiple lab requirements quickly cover any gaps in higher intensity lab work left by the AP.

Jayne Brownell, director of the LSA advising center, said high AP scores can give students a "false sense of security."

Because of an annual review roughly two years ago, the physics department decided to begin only accepting AP scores of five to assure students had covered foundational material in-depth, said Physics Prof. Tim McKay said.

McKay, who serves as an adviser in the department, also said he often recommends that students who score a four or lower on the exam to take the first-year course as review or take it at the honors level if they do not find it challenging enough.

"There are worse things in the world than getting an 'A' in a difficult science course," McKay said.

To solve the translation problem between AP and University courses, instead of offering equivalency for a particular course, some departments like English and history grant general department credits, which can be used toward graduation but do not place a student out of a particular course.

The math department's policy for LSA students rewards students who take both a version of the AP Calculus exam and Math 115 or 116 by giving additional retroactive credit for the AP score when the student passes the University course.

Sally Lindsley, senior associate director of admissions, said the University is regularly among the schools with the most AP credit accepted because of the strength of its applicant pool.

In the number of scores submitted, the University ranked eighth nationwide in 2004-05.

Credit comparison

How many credits the AP chemistry exam is worth at different colleges:

University of Michigan (LSA):

Score of 3: 5 credits (with placement test for Chem 210)

Score of 4 or above: 5 credits (no test)

University of Michigan (Engin):

4: 3 credits

5: 5 credits

Ohio State University:

3: 5 credits

4 or above: 10 credits

Cornell College:

5: 4 credits

Dartmouth College:

5: 5 credits