kitchen table math, the sequel: AP science & math

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

AP science & math

from Education Week:
Begun in the 1950s to let gifted students undertake college-level work in high school, AP courses, in Mr. Sadler’s words, have since become “the juggernaut of high school education.” Growing at a rate of 9.3 percent a year in the past two decades, enrollment in AP courses well outpaces the 1 percent yearly increase in the number of students graduating from high school, the book says.


...some students elect to retake the AP course they took in high school by enrolling in an introductory-level course in the same subject in college.

In his study, Mr. Sadler and his research partner, Gerhard Sonnert, look more closely at the retakers in 55 randomly selected colleges across the country.

Their aim was to see whether students who took and passed high school AP courses had an edge over their college classmates in the same subject, after controlling for differences in students’ academic backgrounds or previous science coursework. (AP course-takers typically have more extensive science backgrounds and better grades than non-AP students.)

The answer, judging by the students’ grades in the introductory-level college classes, was yes. The former AP students didn’t ace the classes—their grades fell on average in the range of B to B-plus—but they did better in their chemistry, physics, and biology classes than peers without any AP experience.

That was not the case, though, for students who had previously failed an AP biology test; they fared no better in that subject in college.

Grade Bump

In another study featured in the book, Mr. Sadler also applies some systematic analysis to the GPA-boosting “bonus points” that high schools often assign to AP-course grades. College-admissions officers also use similar methods to add weight to AP-course grades when comparing students’ grades.

To find out if the extra points were warranted, Mr. Sadler asked college students in 113 introductory biology, physics, and chemistry courses about the level of high school science courses they had taken and the grades they received in them. He then compared the results with professors’ reports of their students’ grades in those introductory science classes.

Mr. Sadler found that students who took honors or AP courses in high school science added an average of 2.4 grade points, on a 100-point scale, to their college science grades for each additional level of rigor. Based on that calculation, he figures that students who take honors courses ought to receive an extra half-point on a grade-point-average scale of 1 to 4, while AP courses ought to be worth an extra point, and an extra 2 points if students pass the exam.

Book Trains Critical Eye on AP Program's Impact
By Debra Viadero
Published in Print: March 17, 2010, as Book Eyes Impact of AP Classes and Exams
Education Week

A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program
Edited by Philip M. Sadler, Gerhard Sonnert, Robert H. Tai, and Kristin Klopfenstein


Crimson Wife said...

Why should a kid who fails the AP exam receive ANY extra weight in his/her GPA? He/she obviously didn't learn the material...

Tex said...

Yes, if a student fails the exam I cannot see why he would receive any bump. But, the “he doesn’t test well” crowd would disagree, I guess.

Tex said...

The recommended GPA bump seems too generous, but I understand their reasoning. My son’s school only adds 5% for honors and 10% for APs.

Catherine Johnson said...

The study also found that taking an actual college course (dual enrollment) was better than taking AP.

SteveH said...

At our high school, a regular course has a weighting of 3, an Honors course has a weighting of 3.4, and an AP class has a weighting of 3.7. The student handbook says that to change from one course to another (in mid-semester) means that numerical grades are scaled by a ratio of these weights. Notice that compared to Tex's school, our bumps are more than twice as big. Although they reduce the bump between honors and AP, there is a huge incentive to maximize your honors and AP classes. But the AP bump comes with a risk. Our high school says that to get the bump, you have to get at least a '3' on the AP test.

What I am more concerned about is the AP arms race in high school. My son is looking to maximize the AP courses he takes. I figure that he can take (at most) about 8 AP classes, assuming that they can be scheduled. This has nothing to do with skipping classes in college. It has to do with the competition for getting into college.

I really don't want him to play that game. I would rather have him focus on the core AP math and science courses where his interest lies. Then again, how could he pass up an easy 'A' in AP Music?

It's a game you really can't ignore. The game not only encourages an AP arms race, but it encourages you to load your junior year with key AP classes. The full year is seen by colleges, and this is where you get your teacher recommendations.

My current thinking is that for all of those AP classes to matter, you have to have good SAT scores. If you do that, then maximizing the number of AP classes (for a top class rank) is not necessary if you have 'A's in the AP courses you are interesed in pursuing in college. Then, my son needs to focus on some very specific things outside of school that set him apart and define who he is and what he is interested in.

This seems to be a good reason to take the SAT (or ACT) test early and often.

... Just to verify what was said on KTM a while back, can you pick and choose which SAT scores (from multiple years) get sent to colleges? Do they know that the scores come from different tests? Is there a downside to this?

SteveH said...

"The study also found that taking an actual college course (dual enrollment) was better than taking AP."

I assume this means that they would score better on the same AP test.

But this just steps up the arms race one more level. I don't think my son minds competing for college slots, but he doesn't want to be driven crazy trying to do it.

Then again, perhaps it would help many kids avoid the silliness of high school and AP classes. Why not just take actual college classes and get the college credit? But not all colleges accept other college courses. When I transferred in college, I basically lost a semester's worth of credit. I have this distinct memory of sitting in a professor's office trying to get more than a 2 for 1 swap for many of my credits. (Sorry UCONN, you lost.)

Then I have a neice in CT who had trouble transferring credits from a local community college to UCONN even though the state somehow guaranteed that it was no problem.

TerriW said...

I may have mentioned this before, but I went to community college for my Junior and Senior year of high school. (This was about 20 years ago in MN.) I found it helpful to just complete the AA and transfer in as a junior to my 4 year and not even deal with it on a credit by credit basis. I never even took the SAT or ACT**. (Admittedly, it was a state college in Washington, so I can't tell you how non-selective it probably was or if other colleges would accept that.)

** OK, technically, I did take the SAT in 8th grade to qualify for high school honors classes. But I didn't submit that score.

lgm said...

>>Why not just take actual college classes and get the college credit?

That's exactly what the guidance office is saying here. My only objection is the cost and the fact that honors math isn't offered. I feel honors math is valuable to STEM students. I know I had a much easier time in the college engineering curriculum than some of my peers because I had taken math at the honors level from 7th grade on. I also noted to the g.c. that cc courses such as pre-calc don't trasnfer, because they are pre-recs. Can't see paying the CC for a high school nonhonors class even if they want to label it a college class.

ChemProf said...

There is something called SAT Choice, where you can choose which scores to send.

I was a weirdo who took the SAT starting in 7th grade. The SAT scores I used to apply to college actually pre-dated my PSAT scores. I found that taking it several times helped - I knew what to expect and was very calm about the whole thing.

As for transfer courses, it can be complicated. A lot of community colleges offer things like "college algebra" and "pre-calculus" that colleges may or may not accept. Also, colleges have different credit systems, and somehow that always seems to play against getting full transfer credit.

However, you should be aware that community college courses aren't always at the same level as 4-year classes, especially in STEM. It depends on the cc, but I've had students retake Gen Chem who had A's from (a particularly weak) community college who barely managed B's in my course.

SteveH said...

"I've had students retake Gen Chem who had A's from (a particularly weak) community college who barely managed B's in my course."

That's why I think you have to be careful about taking college courses in high school. It may depend on whether you are using them for getting into a really good college (in which case, you will probably take the courses over again), or if you want to be able to get or transfer real college credit. You might be surprised that they don't transfer. In my case, even some of my perfectly fine college courses weren't accepted. I always thought that since I was moving up, they weren't going to give me one-for-one credit.

Having said that, I'm all for pathways that allow high school students to start taking college courses (or start vocational school) early. Our state has one, but it's only for students who might normally never get to college. For the rest of the students, they aren't going to stop you, but you are on your own for travel and cost.

I just think that the AP arms race is bad enough without raising the bar higher with a need to take college courses. I don't think colleges will ignore that course in differential equations you took at the local community college, but they probably won't give you credit for it.

It would be nice if you do bust your ass to get into a good college, that you have something to show for it. Unfortunately, for many community college courses, the credit is only valuable if you don't go anywhere else.

SteveH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SteveH said...

That was odd. I've had a few cases where Blogger acts like it lost my post, but it really didn't.

Catherine Johnson said...

"The study also found that taking an actual college course (dual enrollment) was better than taking AP."

That was misleading.

It found that dual enrollment was connected with kids graduating college in under 4 years, whereas AP courses weren't associated with shorter time to graduation.

That doesn't seem to be a particularly strong finding; other people have found that kids taking AP science/math did graduate faster.

In any event, the finding was related only to time-to-college-graduation.

Catherine Johnson said...

We just went to a college night where we learned that colleges (or CollegeBoard - not sure which) do something called "superscoring," which means that they take your best score on each test, no matter when you took the test.

In other words, if you took the SAT 3 times and scored highest on verbal the 1st go round, highest on math the 2nd go round, & highest on writing the 3rd go round, colleges take those three scores.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hogwarts is moving to a weighted grading system for the first time. Apparently they were the only Jesuit school in the country not using one.

The college counselor said they refuse to calculate class rank AND they make it impossible for colleges to do so, either.

They don't report to colleges what percentage of kids get what grades, as my public high school does. My public high school also doesn't compute GPA but since they tell colleges what the grade ranges are & how many students are in each it's easy for the college to calculate it themselves.

Of course, parents here aren't aware that the high school gives colleges this information.

Catherine Johnson said...

Terri W - I think I've mentioned this before; that's what my niece is doing.

C. can take 2 college courses senior year because Hogwarts is connected to a university. I don't think we have to pay extra; I think he just gets to take them if his grades are high enough.

John said...

Does anyone have any experience with early college high schools? There are 2 charter schools in our area that do this. They are affiliated with local colleges and students that graduate high school also can take earn upto 60 credits of college credit also. I think this would be great if a student decided to continue at that college. I am not sure if these credits would transfer well. Unfortunately, the "free" high school is associated with a rather weak college.

Liz Ditz said...

I don't have any direct experience with "early college high schools" but I have anecdotal evidence about what's called "middle college" around here -- high school students taking courses at the local community colleges.

Here's the program I'm familiar with:

Anecdotally, it seems that many of the kids were the "bright and bored" students at the local public high schools.

IN California, the CC curriculum is specifically designed to align with the University of California system & the California State University system, so credits of approved courses automatically transfer.

ChemProf said...

"Unfortunately, the "free" high school is associated with a rather weak college."

Honestly, I think that's usually the case. Strong colleges who make their class every year don't need to get involved in these programs.

As for California cc's, yes courses will transfer to UC or CSU (if you make sure it is a UC/CSU transferrable course but at least they are labeled). However, transferring credit to private colleges is more complicated.