kitchen table math, the sequel: Dartmouth strikes a blow against A.P.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dartmouth strikes a blow against A.P.

So glad we didn't have C. apply to Dartmouth (my alma mater):
“The psychology department got more and more suspicious about how good an indicator a 5 on the A.P. psych exam was for academic success,” said Hakan Tell, a classics professor who heads Dartmouth’s Committee on Instruction, so the department decided to give a condensed version of the Psych 1 final to incoming students instead of giving them credits.

Of more than 100 students who had scored a 5 on the A.P. exam, 90 percent failed the Dartmouth test. The other 10 percent were given Dartmouth credit.


The College Board, which administers the A.P. program, said it found the Dartmouth results hard to credit.

“It’s very difficult to believe that 90 percent of students with a 5 on their A.P. would flunk a test on an introductory course,” said Trevor Packer, the College Board official in charge of the A.P. program. “We have research, including Dartmouth students who got a 5 on their psychology A.P., showing that they did better than students without that A.P.”

Mr. Packer said he believed Dartmouth had an obligation to share details of the experiment.

Dartmouth Stops Credits for Excelling on A.P. Test
Published: January 17, 2013
Suburban schools in my neck of the woods are itching to dump AP courses, and Dartmouth's move will be cited far and wide and often. Thanks!

Dartmouth needs to release the data. AP courses are developed by disciplinary specialists; in the past Ed's been approached to work on AP history. In terms of content the AP course is a college course.

I agree that high school teachers are in no way the equivalent of college professors with Ph.D.s in the field, but that is not the issue at hand. The issue at hand is Dartmouth's claim that entering students who have scored 5s on the AP Psychology exam fail an introductory Dartmouth psychology department exam. I don't believe it. I know the kind of kid who gets accepted to Dartmouth -- I personally know several students attending Dartmouth now -- and they're not failing introductory-level course exams. If they are, there's something wrong with the exam.

Here's a student essay, from the AP Psychology Examination, that scored 10 of 10. (Scoring commentary here)

Here's the College Board's explanation of scoring for the writing portion.

Psychology Course Description


Jen said...

Wait, so the kids took the AP in May and then when they went in the fall they took the other test? How many of your college finals could you have passed 3-4 months after the last time you studied?

Now, the part about doing worse at the end of the real course again is odd, but then again, I imagine the students studied least for that class -- figuring that it seemed pretty familiar.

Then again, I can say that my son took both AP Psych and IB Psych in high school and said that the IB course was hands down the better class and far more related to the college level psych work.

For many kids, taking AP Psych is an index card sort of test -- just make a ton of index cards and memorize a short phrase to go with the concept or name. The IB classes required doing research, writing things up in proper format, etc.

hush said...

The abuses in the fraternity system would give me pause about my children applying to Dartmouth:

Catherine Johnson said...

I went to Dartmouth when things were REALLY hairy!

Catherine Johnson said...

Interesting to hear that IB psych is better.

Schools here REALLY want to ditch AP (too much 'rote memorizing') for IB (more expensive and INTERDISCIPLINARY!)

Your point re: studying for the exam is well taken.

Nothing about this so-called 'study' makes sense.

ESPECIALLY not given the extremely high capabilities of Dartmouth students. The Ivies loathe giving credit for AP courses, and most of them (I think - correct me if I'm wrong) don't give credit.

Dartmouth is just choosing to follow Ivy rules in a particularly public and obnoxious way.

They're going to get a huge amount of bad publicity.

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, memorization in an introductory psych course is critical. I majored in psychology, and the explosion in necessary terminology is not to be believed. I've actually considered creating a set of SAFMEDS for myself.

If you take a look at the essay that scored a 10, you can see that this student has learned -- and is using correctly -- terms I'm still confusing.

To have a prayer of understanding psychology research, you have to know those terms, and they are not easy to master.

fyi: I ***think*** one reason why psych terms are so difficult to master is that researchers are still so unclear on what these various parts of the brain actually do. It's quite difficult to memorize a term when you can't memorize what the term means (or when you have to memorize different theories about what this part of the brain does).

Plus there are a zillion overlapping theories of how things work....committing psychology terms to memory is a daunting task.

momof4 said...

All of my kids had enough APs to start college with sophomore status (not at Ivies). Generally, the APs were used to cover introductory distribution requirements (calc, English, history, science, foreign language) For that purpose, how much they remembered in September is pretty irrelevant. One exception was one kid taking AP econ (5s on both micro and macro) and going straight to the next-level honors class as a freshman and an eventual major. The other was using the Spanish AP to skip to the next level, with an eventual minor. Thanks to the APs, one kid did a 5-year BA/MA program in 4, one triple-majored and one did TA and internship gigs.

It sounds as if Dartmouth is simply trying to make sure kids have to spend 4 years to get a degree.

Anonymous said...

Dartmouth's wacky academic calendar already takes care of "have to spend 4 years to get a degree."

When I took psychology at Dartmouth, the course was incredibly detail-oriented. It was not a "big picture" type of course. If you didn't know the parts of the brain memorized to the point of automaticity as well as who developed which theory in what year, you would not pass the exams.

Hardly anyone likes teaching intro classes. Faculty would be much happier if the students showed up ready to do major-level coursework. The faculty -- the ones who make this decision -- do not gain any money from it. They teach the same number of courses a year no matter what. The bursar's office does not set academic policy.

Catherine Johnson said...

It sounds as if Dartmouth is simply trying to make sure kids have to spend 4 years to get a degree.

I'm pretty sure the Ivies all have a requirement that you spend 4 years in that school regardless of how many AP credits you have. (They do accept a tiny number of transfer students, however.)

This seems like a silly move to me. Ivy League colleges use APs to let students opt out of introductory courses.

All Dartmouth is doing is requiring that entering students take introductory psychology.

I haven't taken AP Psychology (nor did C.), and I don't know the course, but the syllabus is great.

I'm very skeptical that the kind of kid who has a) received a 4 or 5 on AP Psych and b) been accepted by Dartmouth needs to take the introductory course.

These are very capable students with excellent study habits; they are exactly the type of student who can fill in whatever gaps in knowledge they may have.

Catherine Johnson said...

If you didn't know the parts of the brain memorized to the point of automaticity as well as who developed which theory in what year, you would not pass the exams.


It wasn't like that when I was there, but the field was much, much younger.

I'm skeptical that students need to know which person developed which theory in which year, but speaking as a psychology writer I am CONSTANTLY relearning the truth that I need to MEMORIZE the gazillion terms to automaticity.

Which I STILL have not done.

Anonymous is right -- this has nothing to do with money.

I'm pretty sure all the Ivies require a 4-year stay.

Catherine Johnson said...

I should add that disciplinary specialists in general don't see AP courses as college courses.

(Although - this is a funny story inside our own household - Ed, who was always almost contemptuous of AP courses, became an avid fan after finding out what was going on in public schools. He'd been of the mind that AP courses covered too much material with too much memorization -- which he probably still believes -- but once he found out public schools are now specializing in Interdisciplinary Global Shmobal extravaganzas he Changed His Views. He used to say, with feeling: "I used to think AP courses were bad. Now I want C. to take as many AP courses as he possibly can.")

Catherine Johnson said...

momof4 ---- GREAT STORY! (Another one to get up front...)

Thank you!

(I think you've posted that before, and I hope you will keep on posting it!)

Jean said...

I would love to have a discussion on the real value of the APs. I feel like I'm kind of ignorant about them (my school did not even offer them). So far I've homeschooled my kids, but my 12yo may go to the public high school. It's a pretty decent high school (better than mine!).

Most of the kids I know take a bunch of APs. Some of them seem fine, like AP Chem. Some I am leery of--AP World History is a course that sophomores all seem to take, but it looks like pointless torture to me. Can anyone really learn world history this way? Does my kid have to take it? I would so much rather do history MY way.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hey Jean - if you want to chat with Ed about it, just email. My email is:

I'll ask him what he thinks of World History. C. had a FANTASTIC teacher for that course. Amazing.

The AP History courses really are "Mile Wide, Inch Deep": they cover too much content. (I'm sure Ed would still say that.)

BUT the good part is: they cover a lot of content.

They are designed by disciplinary specialists & to a significant degree vetted by disciplinary specialists.

Catherine Johnson said...

Jean - talking to Ed now:

* The survey course is an important thing. In Scarsdale, when they got rid of AP, they got rid of the survey course. They're teaching "the Civil Rights movement" or "WWII" or "Women in History" -- stuff that might be fine once you've had the survey course. AP does a real service in forcing schools to give survey courses.

* All AP history courses cover too much material.

* AP courses give high school teachers a "halfway decent curriculum" to follow that they wouldn't be able to create on their own. The DBQ materials are valuable.

(Full disclosure: Ed helped create DBQs for the CA History Social Science Project in the late 1980s. DBQs were created as testing devices, not teaching devices or writing assignments --- but Ed thinks they're good as writing assignments ASSUMING THE STUDENT IS DOING THE DBQ IN THE CONTEXT OF A SURVEY COURSE.)

Catherine Johnson said...

My impression: C. is very knowledgeable about history, so, just speaking as his mother: Yes, students can learn a great deal of history in the World History course as well as the other courses.

C. took 3 AP history courses:

* World History
* European History
* US History

Catherine Johnson said...

He also took Bio, Lit, and Language.

Catherine Johnson said...

"Because of Bio, I got out of both science requirements."

That's my boy -----


He says these things to annoy me.

Catherine Johnson said...

I guess that frees up room in his schedule to take the sequel to Writing the Essay.

Which is called "Advanced College Essay."

Think I'll go suggest that to him now.

ChemProf said...

My usual advice about AP is be a little wary. AP Chem is a good case in point -- it is equivalent to the first semester of college chemistry and in terms of content is at the level of a decent community college course. So if a student at my institution chooses to use AP credit and needs the second semester of chemistry, she is at a big disadvantage. She'll have holes where we cover things in more detail and she'll be one of a very few students who didn't just finish the first semester. I usually encourage students in that situation to at least sit in on the first semester. Some higher-ranked schools will run a one or two semester section of "honors" Gen Chem for students with AP, and if there are enough students like that it works.

That said, if you don't need the course as a prereq, then AP is a great time saver. And AP calculus seems particularly good for most students.

At my own institution, the psych faculty have not complained about AP psychology, but many schools are pickier for various reasons (some good, some not). And some of it is just "we want them to learn it our way." Years ago, I had a brilliant student who transferred to Holyoke and almost flunked out because she didn't have two years of practice keeping her lab notebook and writing her lab reports their way, and the faculty couldn't be bothered teaching her in upper division.

MagisterGreen said...

Sheesh, now I'm going to have to listen to people tout this crap.

As an AP Latin teacher I know that the AP Latin course is a decent course with a very nice curriculum that approximates a low-300 level college Latin course. I may disagree with the reading selections but the course in general is pretty strong. I've had students test out of language requirements entirely and test in to 300-level courses coming out of the AP Latin program, so I feel fairly confident that what we do and how we do it is working.

Without the data this is a horrid, horrid publicity stunt at its best and downright intellectually dishonest at its worst. I'd think Dartmouth would be better than that.

Anonymous said...

Two points:

1. College courses are not all created equal, even at the introductory survey level. I can easily believe that a given AP course is equivalent to the survey courses at *some* colleges, while being (dramatically) weaker than the survey courses at another college. So, Dartmouth could well be making the right decision, even if other colleges will (rightly) accept the AP course.

2. It's entirely possible that some AP courses are not up to the level of college courses but are still dramatically better than the other alternatives in high school. I want my daughter to taking certain AP's in high school, even though I would never recommend that my own university accept them as substitutes for our intro classes. State law requires her to take *something* in these areas, and the AP's are much better than the non-AP alternatives.

momof4 said...

Chem Prof: At my older kids' HS, all AP courses had honors prereqs in the same subject - honors world before AP Euro, honors US before AP US, honors chem before AP chem, honors physics before AP physics etc. The last I heard, that was still true of the sciences, all of which were and are double-period, every day. The last I heard, it's still true that 85% of the kids get 4s-5s in the sciences. The school had and has a deservedly strong reputation and people move into the district because of it, so the school population is advantaged and academically focused. In such a setting, with the honors prereqs and double periods, is the content coverage still an issue?

momof4 said...

I should have included the fact that the calc (BC) was a much more challenging course than the one at the local CC; some of the (comparatively) weaker kids took the CC calc for that reason. I'm not sure if that was the case in the sciences or humanities. I think the difference was in the inherent differences between the two student bodies, which may less now.

Jean said...

Wow, thanks Catherine! It's nice to have that perspective. I fully agree about the importance of survey courses. It's just that I look at the AP WH textbook and think "overwhelming data dump, you can't do this in a year." If we homeschooled through high school (at this point I'm thinking the public school is more likely but who knows), I would be doing 4 years of world history in chronological order plus a course of American history for a year, or else 3 years of that and 1 year of American history. Since we've been doing world history all along, I'd expect to do it at a deepish level and see analytic papers. I hope that by high school my kid will have a basic idea of what world history looks like (though I have my doubts--the other day I had to remind her about QEI and what happened after she died, sigh).

I never had any of that--I went to a rotten high school and had one year of American history and I think a year of ancient civilizations in 9th grade. I suppose either way it will be better...

Cassandra Turner said...

MagisterGreen: Can you share your thought on the new direction AP is going with its Latin testing?

Jen said...

The last two years of IB are definitely the equivalent or better of AP. Leading up to that can be more of a crapshoot in terms of "interdisciplinary" and "group" work.

For the diploma years (the last two), there are lots of examples to work from, that is, a student can look at papers and essays which show the quality of work which is expected. That really helps them to begin to estimate how long things take, how much research needs to be done, etc.

Teachers tend to take great pride in how many students they can get to the highest levels and if you as around, you'll find out who those teachers are. Those would be the teachers you'd want your child to take their higher level (as opposed to standard level) classes with.

It can also mean that your child *shouldn't* take the higher level in a class if the teacher can't do it. Even the standard level physics was a reach in the local school last year, because the excellent teacher moved on. The new teacher was basically useless and I doubt that she could have gotten even a decent grade on the standard level. :-p

Several years back kids could decide on higher level (3 high levels of 7 tests needed for diploma, I think)based on their own interests and strengths, rather than on the weaknesses of the teachers.

ChemProf said...

momof4 -- under those circumstances, it depends! They should talk to the instructor at their institution, who can probably tell them what they'd need to study up on. Sometimes it is quirky -- we finish up with electrochemistry in the fall and don't cover any thermodynamics until the spring, as we've found it makes the fall semester jump around less which works better for our students. But students jumping into the spring will likely get the very basics of thermo twice (no big deal) and not get any electrochem (which may be okay, but will make life exciting if they take Analytical where I assume they have had electrochem). For a strong student who can learn on his/her own, it is manageable, but sitting in can definitely help.

Here's a more extreme example, from my college (Harvey Mudd). In our first semester, we covered thermodynamics with calculus. That's very unusual. Most AP classes would barely touch on enthalpy, not include calculus-based material at all, and certainly not cover entropy/Gibbs which we did. So a student who skipped that and went on to upper level courses would be very poorly served.

The more elite the institution, the more wary I would be about using AP for a pre-req course (although again, I think calculus is an exception almost everywhere). But do look for a one-semester or honors class rather than dealing with the basic course and being bored! Or see what the actual course instructor advises, not just what the website or the professional advisor tells you!

momof4 said...

Thanks, ChemProf. I know the AP physics was/is calc-based (calc BC a co-req), but I'm not sure about the chem. Since the older son who took AP chem did so as a junior (and took AP physics as a senior), had was in pre-calc but might have figured out enough calc to get through, and there were a couple of other juniors in the class, so the teacher might have taught some. He's a guy who finished his last 2 classes for his math master's, from a very competitive school, without attending classes (he'd just started a new job, in a new field, in another state); the instructor just emailed him the assignments and he flew in to present his project, so he's very mathy.

Catherine Johnson said...

Jen - yes, Ed complained for YEARS about AP history courses! He used to say they should be dropped (if you can imagine that now ---- which I can't).

At this point he basically sees AP as the only bulwark between us and the deluge.

Without having any actual expertise in chemistry, I'm going to 'ditto that' for everything chemprof just said -- and add that I've often thought AP courses **are** as good (or better) than a lot of community college courses (or than the course I teach).

Ed is comparing a high school AP history course to a history course taught by a historian who is doing research & publishing in the field. Those are two different animals.

I think I'll add that I personally would choose the adjunct with a Ph.D. who is not doing research in his/her field over a high school teacher teaching an AP course. I would automatically expect the adjunct's course to be better than the AP teacher's course.

BUT I wouldn't 'bet money on it' in any individual case. The high school teacher could be a better teacher & a more engaged intellectual.

Catherine Johnson said...

Sheesh, now I'm going to have to listen to people tout this crap.

I'm laughing!

That is EXACTLY what I'm thinking, only I didn't come up with the expression TOUT THIS CRAP.

(Another candidate for replacement slogan....)

Catherine Johnson said...

re: IB versus AP

As best I can tell, the IB curriculum is developed by teachers, not disciplinary specialists.

A few years back I spent hours of my life trying to track this info down. I was unable to find anything on the IB website, and I finally found a comment from a man defending IB, who said that his wife, a high school teacher, was one of the curriculum designers (or writers).

I don't think College Board says much about who designs their curricula, either (unless there's something on the website now). The only reason I know that it's designed by disciplinary specialists is that they've approached Ed in the past.

Catherine Johnson said...

I never had any of that--I went to a rotten high school and had one year of American history and I think a year of ancient civilizations in 9th grade.

Me, too!

Except I didn't have a year of ancient civilizations in 9th grade.

Or ever.

I was educated by wolves.

Catherine Johnson said...

I have a BC calculus story.

A mom here told me her son took BC Calculus ("My husband is good at math").

She said his math course at Brown was easier. Wish I could remember now what he was taking .... but it was something real.

It wasn't Math Patterns in Nature.

She also told me her husband's first cousin was a famous economist -- possibly a Nobel Prize winner (can't remember exactly what the story was now).

This is the competition here at our high school. Kids whose dads can teach them BC calculus & whose relatives are famous economists.

Catherine Johnson said...

That's an exaggeration .... but not by much where C. is concerned. In our high school a significant number of kids have parents who can tutor and reteach BC calculus, physics, chemistry, etc.

We couldn't compete.

concerned said...


You asked if your child had to take AP World History...I just wanted to point out that students can take AP exams in any subject even if they have not taken a subject in school - like in your case homeschooling.

I teach AB and BC Calculus. I recommend that my students purchase the Princeton Review "Cracking the AP Calculus Exam" as a supplement to our traditional texts.

[BTW-I've never had a former student report that they were unprepared for subsequent university coursework]

Anyway, these study guides have sample AP Exams (format and solutions) in the back. I would recommend you go to your local book store and check them out. I spent two days one summer going through ALL of the available AP study guides for Calc and Princeton was definitely the best imho - I've heard the same from AP teachers of other subjects as well.

ChemProf said...

As for AP versus IB, I haven't had enough students with IB to really know, but at least some IB programs are fabulous. We had a recent IB student who challenged the second semester of Gen Chem and actually got an A on the final (trust me, this is rare). Her program seemed particularly strong though (she was from Colorado for what that's worth).

MagisterGreen said...

MagisterGreen: Can you share your thought on the new direction AP is going with its Latin testing?

The new curriculum isn't terrible, and I say that as a fan of Vergil and as someone who thinks that an entire curriculum on Vergil alone is a good and worthy thing. But the Caesar has gone well and, while I miss a lot of what they cut from the Aeneid I can learn to live with it.

The real issue I have is with the changes they've made to the Free Response Questions. The old test featured three essays of various sorts - one lengthy analytical essay, one shorter descriptive, and one short compare-contrast. The new test has the longer analytical essay followed by two short-answer sections which, to my mind, ask the same sorts of questions that the multiple-choice portion does. I think it's a real shame to see the essays pared down to almost nothing, even though teaching my students to write those essays was by far the most challenging part of the old test.

In sum: we'll see where it goes but I do think the new test has lost some rigor and exchanged it for a softer touch. Fortunately with a capstone-type course like AP Latin you can't dumb it down too much.

Cassandra Turner said...

At our 3-yr old HS, not ONE of the five students that took AP Bio scored higher than a 2. On APUSH - average score was a 3. AP Gov't had one 5 and the rest were 3's and 2's (with one 1!) AP Calc was the only class we cracked, with every student taking the AB course scoring a 5.

This year my son has AP Latin, AP Calc AB & BC and College Physics. I suggested he switch out of AP Comp & Lang. No way he'll pass that as a junior. College Physics is our AP-Level B Physics course. The past two years we have tweaked the Physics program twice and haven't come up with a decent course. (That is perhaps a future post - how a school can't get Physics instructions correct.)

We have some work ahead of us the this charter.

My senior is in an IB program. He will have May off to study for the exams. He scored a 4/7 last year on some Ecological Sciences test/course. It was the only science class he could fit in to enable him to take Calc-based Physics with a Univ Prof on campus this year.

We're trying to poach that prof for our charter HS physics.

The IB program has been in our Fort Collins, CO HS for close to 17 years. People come from three towns over to attend. The school's sports teams aren't so great, but the Mock Trial, Knowledge Bowl, Science, Bowl & Robotics teams are top-notch.

SteveH said...

Dartmouth should test, in the fall, students who took their psych class the previous year to see if they get to keep the credit they earned.

"Suburban schools in my neck of the woods are itching to dump AP courses, and Dartmouth's move will be cited far and wide and often."

But what will they replace them with, courses that set higher standards? What, specifically, do they see wrong about the AP courses as a general idea?

I see the main purpose of AP classes NOT as advanced placement, but as a way to keep high schools honest. I'm not sitting here thinking that all of the AP classes my son is taking will mean that he will get done with college earlier and that we will save money. That may happen, but I'm not counting on it.

My basic philosophy is that if you expect to major in that subject, you do NOT want to skip the (probabaly very rigorous) intro course in college. This may depend on the college, but I wouldn't recommend it without knowing the details.

For courses that are needed to meet your distribution requirements, if the college accepts the AP credit, then go for it. Maybe you can move on to more interesting electives or just get done with college earlier.

Our high school has open houses to get more students to take at least one AP class. They've won awards for this. They offer AP Music and AP Art. I know that AP Music is not trivial and it may appeal to some who might not be at the AP level in other subjects. It's a great way for some kids to show that they are academically advanced in some area. At the open house, some kids were saying (ha ha) that they would NEVER take AP Physics, but it really inspired them to do well in AP Music. I like AP over IB because it's not all or nothing. You can appeal to a wider range of student ability. (My niece went to a high school that offered a few different levels of IB, and some AP classes included IB students.)

Our high school also uses weighted GPA grades where regular classes are weighted 3, honors classes are weighted 3.4, and AP classes are weighted 3.7. For class rank, this causes an AP arms race and kids know which AP classes are easier. It's not uncommon for students to take all AP classes in their senior year. Then again, at another school in our area, no extra weight is given for honors or AP classes. Students take a lot fewer AP classes and it pisses off those students trying to get a higher class rank plus take the most difficult courses.

There is also a science issue for AP classes. AP is supposed to come AFTER a high school level class, so technically, one would take honors physics before taking AP Physics. It can't happen. I realized this when my son was in eighth grade. There are not enough years or class slots to do this for more than one science class. Forget getting to AP biology, chemistry, and physics before you graduate. What happens? Kids get the OK to skip the honors class and go directly to the AP class. My son is a junior and is taking AP Physics. Next year, he will take AP Chemistry. For both, he will not have taken the prior honors class. Many kids do this, so it makes me wonder what goes on in those honors classes. My impression is that going directly into AP Physics may be a stretch for many students, but taking honors physics before AP Physics is a much bigger waste of time. Maybe I'll change my tune after my son takes the AP test, but I don't think so.

SteveH said...

What I don't like, however, is the incredible calendar he has for the second half of his junior year. I was just filling it in this morning. Mid-terms next week. AMC/12 math test Feb. 5th. Visit colleges during Feb. and Apr. breaks, SAT in May with all of the prior preparation. I wanted him to take it twice as a junior, but this is almost impossible with all of the music he is doing. This is also true for students doing athletics or theater. Then, there are three AP tests he has to take in the beginning of May and two or three SAT II tests he will probably take June 1st. If we get a lot of the college application work done during the summer, it makes his senior year look like a breeze. All that he would need is acceptance before Christmas for his first choice early admission. One can only hope.

momof4 said...

Steve: My older kids attended a HS where every AP had an honors prereq and all AP sciences (bio,chem,physics)were double-period every day. AFAIK, the school still requires the honors prereq for sciences, but not for others. My son's sequence was:
soph: bio,chem,English,Spanish IV,US hx-all-honors. Honors world hx as freshman
junior: honors physics, AP Spanish
language, AP chem, AP US hx
senior: AP calc BC, AP physics (calc- based,calc co-req),AP Euro
hx,AP Spanish lit

This was the usual for STEM kids. Those thinking med school usually took AP bio and AP chem. At least 85% of the kids had 4-5s on the AP test and I think bio was similar.Yes, it's a tough schedule, but it was pretty common. Lots of the kids did music, but mine played two varsity sports plus one full-time club travel sport, so it's doable - keeps the social life to a minimum, which I considered a plus. The rest of the kids did something similar, although he was the only one who took two AP sciences. My youngest took AP English language and AP geography without taking the class. She prepped for the geography but not for the English. The down side was that she had a 4 or 5 on the English as a sophomore, but then had to take the course as a junior and again as a senior, to meet the 4 year requirement. Idiotic; we should have had her take a class at a local college, but she had swim practice before and after school, so it made scheduling difficult.

Jean said...

I really appreciate all these stories and explanations; thanks, folks. Our local high school also offers the IB program, and that's another thing I don't know a lot about, though I've done some reading on the subject. I'm not sure if it would be better to encourage my kids to be in that program.

This year, we are doing chemistry here at home. We're using a course that covers all the material you'd get in high school, but at a slightly lower level (this is for 7th grade). My goal is to have her prepped to take AP Chem in high school if she wants. I don't see how any kid could take Honors courses in the sciences AND the AP courses too--you wouldn't have enough time.

Genevieve said...

I transferred into a high school that was designed so that students started taking AP classes their sophomore year. It started with a pre-program in 8th grade. For science this program did 9th grade math in 8th grade. Then 9th grade was one semester chemistry, and one semester physics. After that it was an AP Science a year.

Jen said...

IB need not be an all or none proposition. In many IB programs, there is only a percentage of kids going for the full diploma. Many others mix and match, planning on taking the tests in only a few subjects.

Before the school was closed and the programs separated out, there were IB courses, AP courses, gifted (or what would be honors) classes, "scholars" classes and mainstream classes. AP and IB were open to anyone whose previous grades, teacher recommendations seemed to point that way.

District-wide, gifted classes used to be only for kids with GIEPs and were topped at 18 in class (but often were larger, maybe 21). That has changed now and everyone here will really appreciate the reasoning behind the change.

They decided that while the rules they'd written for themselves ages ago set the # of gifted kids at didn't say anything about how many non-gifted kids could be in the gifted class. Voila! Now you can have 28 or 34 in a "gifted" class -- as long as there aren't too many more than 18 gifted kids.

Along with that change, they got rid of "scholars" as well. The kids with good grades and the motivation to do so take the gifted classes now and the rest got combined with the mainstream classes, you know, to pull up the performance there.


Jen said...

This is too late to be helpful to you, but maybe for someone else?

"SAT in May with all of the prior preparation. I wanted him to take it twice as a junior, but this is almost impossible with all of the music he is doing. This is also true for students doing athletics or theater. Then, there are three AP tests he has to take in the beginning of May and two or three SAT II tests he will probably take June 1st."

If you are the parent of a SOPHOMORE, this should give you pause! You and your child will be much happier if you get those SATs started (and with any luck, out of the way) before May of junior year.

If your school does PSAT testing in 10th grade, you've got scores that are a good indication of where your child will score. If they seem to be on the track you want/think they should be on, make them do practice SATs all summer and see what their scores are like.

If they have improved and are near what you want, GET THE SAT OUT OF THE WAY IN THE FALL!

If the scores need work, look at the year ahead. Note the dates of the SATs offered and think about the conflicts (what sports? plays or musicals? clubs or activities that require trips or weekend time? midterms?). Figure out which test has the most free time ahead of it and aim for that with a tutor, class, etc.

For SAT IIs, the English and Math ones are pretty much like the regular SAT -- though the harder math one has a lot more tested material than the math on the SAT.

But if you are going to be taking a science or history SAT II, the time to take it is just after you've had the class! Buy a practice book, learn whatever you think you've missed in your class and take that test while it's still fresh in your mind, even if you're not a junior.

For my second son, the January SAT was the best choice in his junior year. Taking it then also meant that if he hadn't gotten the scores he wanted, he'd still have March, May or June. It also helps to know which schools are likely fits if you've already got the scores in your pocket.

Catherine Johnson said...

Steve -

Schools here dislike AP courses for a number of reasons.

When I served on the high school site committee, the reason given was that AP courses are too much work for teachers. (Seriously. This is the kind of thing that gets openly cited in parent meetings here.)

Although that reason was cited, I don't give it much credence; I think it was a smokescreen.

From what I can see, schools her dislike AP courses for these reasons:

* too much knowledge, not enough "inquiry" and group work
* too "old school": AP courses are survey courses, not special-topic, interdisciplinary courses (a la Scarsdale's "Advanced Topics" courses)
* too 'hard,' in the sense that not all students can take them

Summing it all up: AP courses are too "old school" and traditional (and maybe too inexpensive? Schools pay nothing to College Board to offer AP courses.)

IB programs are much more in line with education school philosophy (and far more costly). A year-long course in "Theory of Knowledge" --- AP v. IB is like TIMSS v. PISA.

The other option that is extremely attractive to administrators (or was going into the crash) is Cambridge Pre-U, specifically the global course.

Cambridge Pre-U global courses are interdisciplinary and collaborative --- and you can put all students at all levels of ability in them because there is no assigned textbook (just op eds found via Google) , very little writing, almost no individual work (all assignments can be done in groups), AND --- this is something I don't think anyone has really grokked yet --- the 'real' work is classroom discussion.

When a year-long course is based almost entirely in classroom discussion and group Powerpoint presentations, kids who could not take AP courses can do very well.

I see that over and over again in my classes. Basic writers with low Critical Reading scores are often very articulate in classroom discussion.

Catherine Johnson said...

IB need not be an all or none proposition. In many IB programs, there is only a percentage of kids going for the full diploma. Many others mix and match, planning on taking the tests in only a few subjects.

Is this new?

It doesn't seem to be the case in our neighboring district, which has an IB program. I've talked to one of the school board members quite a bit, and she always complains that IB has ended up creating a two-tier system: IB students and not-IB students.

Catherine Johnson said...

IB math, at least in our neighboring district, requires research papers. I talked to a graduate who is now in engineering school; he loathed the course and said he was far behind his peers when he got to college.

My sense is that IB literature courses may be superior to AP lit (maybe a lot superior, in terms of the reading list) while IB math is inferior.

I think a year-long course in "Theory of Knowledge" is a waste of time, and I'm not keen on service requirements, which I believe IB has (but correct me if I'm wrong).

Jen said...

Depends on the program -- our IB went from as described in a larger high school to being its own program. That effectively removed all the options that had previously been available to kids.

However, even so, this year has the highest number ever taking "full IB" meaning they plan to do all 7 tests, write the required paper, complete all the "SAC" requirements, etc. That highest number ever is about 25-30% of the seniors. Next year's group will likely be a lot smaller (this happens to be a high-powered year, after this year people started to look at other options, when they realized how much more limited the school had become.)

Jen said...

There is a lot of writing in IB. Some kids hate that and consequently hate IB. There are "RRJs" all the time -- reader response journals. These seem to be (at least in the school I know) less touchy-feely than they sound. It's not just what did you feeeeeel about what you read, but there will be several questions to respond to about characterization, plot, etc.

Kids who took the program seriously always talk about the advantage they notice in college -- while their friends worry about papers of any topic, any length, they are ready to knock them off easily.

It likely depends on the math teachers -- my kids were lucky to have excellent math teachers. My oldest did the IB Calc in his junior year and was successful in Calc 2 in the nearby university as a senior in HS -- and he said he felt as prepared as the other kids seemed to be in the class.

Jen said...

My kids both really liked the TOK class -- though again, that may have a lot to do with the teacher. I know another teacher doesn't inspire quite the same feelings.

It may also be that my kids are definitely more the philosophical, argue-y types! TOK fit them well, they learned a lot and they can BS with the best of them now. ;-D

There is the "SAC" requirement. It comes to a total of 150 hours over the two years. It stands for "Service, Creativity, and Action" and should be 25 hours of each, per junior and senior year.

However, most everything that isn't a school class counts. If you do a sport -- that's action hours. They like you show some growth or gain for the next year if you do the same twice in a year, but that's not hard to do, really. Going on a bike trip in the summer? That would be action.

Service can be most anything as well -- help in your church's nursery? There you go. Need to bump it up for the next year? Plan some activities for a different age group and add that in. Volunteer with swim lessons at your swim club? Service. Do a neighborhood clean-up? Service.

Creativity, I'm not as clear on what all fits, but lots of things can count for one or another. If you're in a musical group that gives free performances in the community, for instance, you could use that as your creativity (the music part) OR your service. In your school musical? Creativity.

Basically, we found it pretty easy to come up with the hours by looking at what the kids were already doing. We had to fill in a little around the edges, but it wasn't hard. If your kid were involved in something like scouting, it would be even easier.

When it comes to college applications, it also made it VERY easy, because you already had lists of activities that were ready-made for all those sections of the applications.

Cassandra Turner said...

re: IB CAS (Creativity, Action, Service)

My husband and I have been CAS advisors for 2 groups of diploma students. We have advised students who have hardly done anything, and some that accrued 400 hours over the two years. The focus in CAS is always personal and extension of abilities and self-knowledge. And I'll be honest, the crop in these past two years is just going through the motions. We attribute this directly to the fact that the students TYPE all reflections into a specific electronic format.

At my son's high school, IB students are expected to take a certain number of IB tests (I think it's 6 total) to receive an IB diploma. You can not take IB courses if you are not a part of the Diploma Program (11th & 12th grade.)

IB students can take AP courses, but most do not as the content overlaps enough in that some just take the AP tests. The school's IB test pass rate is 98%.

Poudre houses an IB school within a standard school program. The percentage of students in the DP out of the whole school is around 18%. According to U.S. News ranking, 14.9% complete the Diploma Program:

The program provided my son with a counterpoint to the classical (& Core Knowledge) education he received through 8th grade. He once asked me in 8th grade if anyone outside of Egypt, Greece, Rome & The U.S. had any history he could study.

allison said...

I had a very different take. My read was Dartmouth faculty thought AP Psych was a lousy class, used by students to raise GPA, etc. and wanted to make a point. The point was to College Board. Perhaps they even thought the scores were fraudulent.

the CB folks now need to sound outraged. But I have no doubt they had heard complaints before.

Perhaps a rude awakening to liberal arts majors that their mastery was fake. but what an opportunity, to learn that at the beginning of 4 years, rather than too late in the middle to correct it.

If someone actually thinks it's UNFAIR that a person needs to retain knowledge for a whopping 4 months, I'm at a loss as to what that person thinks is the purpose of education.

incidentally, 20+ years ago, my alma mater, MIT offered no AP credit in anything to anyone except as a way to get out of the freshman comp requirement, so you could say I don't see the issue. they did offer the ability for you to fulfill any course by taking the final on the first day of a term, and receiving that grade as your letter grade. I can't construct a reason that would be unfair.

Jen said...

Heh, speaking of ed phrases and acronyms -- it is CAS in the IB program -- but our school's program had to end up calling it SAC, because CAS was an acronym already in wide use district-wide for high school (it labeled a type of advanced class).

I'd agree that the electronic format made it less meaningful.

In our school's previous format, I'd guess our numbers were about the same in terms of IB enrollment and diploma-getting. Now, our percentage would be far lower since everyone is considered enrolled. Originally the district was going to cover the cost of testing for every student. That was something they stopped talking about though! Previously it had been that the district reimbursed parents whose children received the diploma.

Cassandra Turner said...

Jen-Families here use a Scrip program to fund IB Assessments. We've personally been doing it for 3.5 years. (We had to buy groceries & gas anyway, right?) 5% of the money goes to the school and an extremely generous 95% of the benefit goes to the student. So, say we spent $2000 a semester on grocery cards. The school retains $100. Of that $100, the school keeps 5% and the student account gets $95.

Last month, we depleted the account and paid for less than half of the cost of the tests out of pocket. Had we been more diligent, (buying movie or Target gift cards for everyday purchases) we probably could have paid for it all.

SteveH said...

"If you are the parent of a SOPHOMORE, this should give you pause! You and your child will be much happier if you get those SATs started (and with any luck, out of the way) before May of junior year."

It's sooo hard. My son took the PSAT as a sophomore and again last October. He did very well, but he has not begun to look at the essay portion and he has not done any full SAT practice tests. You have to really, really plan ahead. The January date is unworkable due to music and March is during the theater's huge musical weekend preceeded by "hell week". The musical weekend was not selected until after the Christmas break. His earliest choice is May. June 1st as a backup is out because that is for SAT II. Last summer, the best I could do was to have him prepare for the PSAT (Thank you Catherine for the practice tests.) I'll just hope that that will make the SAT prep easier. We're going to start any day now. Right after ...

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that it is possible to pass some AP exams without having a knowledge base equivalent to the college level course, having taken the physics B exam and passing it without having learned about any of the topics on statics or having done anything involving light and atomic physics in my high school physics course. These are listed on the AP syllabus for Physics B and I think that there are other cases like that because the numeric score cannot indicate whether there are any serious gaps in knowledge. This may explain the Dartmouth study to some degree although there is no way to really tell if it is true without seeing the student's scores and what questions were missed.

However, there is still no way that 90 percent of the students who earned a 5 would have the gaps in knowledge that this study indicates since the raw score needed would prevent that from happening. It may be that there is more content or more obscure material not included in most introductory courses but this seems like a giant lie or the exams being set at an overly high level.

Cranberry said...

I can believe it. If Dartmouth is seeing a pattern of students doing less well in upper-level courses, the university must act.

By the way, it's not only AP; the changes affect IB and A-level examinations:

There are also limits on transfer credit:

Entering first-year students may transfer credit for up to 4 courses from other colleges or universities.
Online course work and courses taken at community colleges are generally not eligible for transfer credit. (U.S. military veterans may receive credit for community college course work.)
Not all departments grant transfer credit for courses taken prior to enrollment at Dartmouth, and each course is evaluated on an individual basis.

Around 80% of enrolled Dartmouth students score above 700 on the SAT CR and Math sections. Given such a student body, I would expect introductory classes to surpass AP courses for rigor. The Dartmouth students are 1 to 2 years older than high school students taking AP exams, and they're in a more homogeneous group.

Students who placed out of college introductory classes would then enter advanced classes with students who were older, and who had taken a more intense course. I would expect to see a difference in performance in the advanced course. It's possible that some of the AP kids had taken AP courses years before.

I suspect some of the "AP advantage" comes from the sorting techniques most high schools use in placement. The kids who have good work habits, are compliant, and test well are much more likely to get the nod. Well, in a class composed of Dartmouth students, all the peers are also smart and well-organized.

Anonymous said...

It might also be that those schools that offer AP psych, and/or those students who take it, are operating at a lower level than those kids who take a number of other AP classes. In the early 90s, I was in an info session at a very competitive college and many kids were seriously disappointed to discover that their astronomy or physiology classes (can't remember if AP or honors) would not be counted as sciences at all. I know my older kids' HS did not offer that kind of APs; probably their least challenging one was American/comparative government. Maybe psych is the path of easiest resistance for those kids who "need" to take at least one AP?

cranberry said...

Anonymous @ 7:34, colleges don't institute a change on this scale on the basis of one experiment.

In other AP news, the University of North Carolina has studied correlations between APs and performance:

A UNC study released in November found that high school students who took up to five college-level courses, such as Advanced Placement, on average had a higher GPA than students who didn’t take any — but the difference between those who took five and those who took more than five was negligible.

Bostonian said...

CJ wrote, "I'm pretty sure the Ivies all have a requirement that you spend 4 years in that school regardless of how many AP credits you have."

No. The Harvard site on Advanced Standing says

"Harvard's Advanced Standing program is designed for undergraduates who plan to graduate in three years or plan to complete the A.B./A.M. program in four years. This is a choice made at the end of two years of study at Harvard. To be eligible for this program, students who have taken College Board Advanced Placement exams need a total of four full credits, earned by scoring a 5 on a minimum of four AP tests. Full International Baccalaureate diploma holders with three higher-level subject scores of 7 are also eligible for Advanced Standing. Entering students with outstanding records on foreign examinations such as British A-Levels, French Baccalaureate, or German Abitur may qualify for eligibility on submission of their credentials for evaluation upon their arrival in the College."

GoogleMaster said...

This is the competition here at our high school. Kids whose dads can teach them BC calculus & whose relatives are famous economists.

Um, Catherine, in your household, the kids have a dad who is a full professor at a top-tier national-level university, not to mention published author and director of one of that university's institutes, and a mom who is an instructor at a less-selective regional college, also a published author.

You're part of the competition!

GoogleMaster said...


I took the AP Latin exam back in 1982, when the curriculum was a rotating sequence of a year of Vergil, a year of Horace, and a year of Catullus, and the student could choose either the Vergil test or the Horace/Catullus test. Not having studied Vergil, I took the Horace/Catullus exam.

I took a look at the AP pdf that was linked above, with its description of the course of study and sample questions, and it appears to be as rigorous as what we took. Perhaps we didn't have the multiple choice, but it's possible that my memory has faded over the past 30 years. (But I still remember enough to correct people when they talk about conjugating nouns, and I can still thump out the First Asclepiadean and partially conjugate esse to the first three simple tenses.)

However, I can tell you without a doubt that the four years I spent in Latin class were absolutely the foundation for my grammatical knowledge. We had direct instruction in English grammar in the seventh through tenth grades, but it was nothing compared to what we learned in Latin.

I'm glad to see that the current AP course description still contains some emphasis both on grammar terminology and on understanding the texts that are read in the context in which they were written.

Anonymous said...

SteveH said "What I don't like, however, is the incredible calendar he has for the second half of his junior year."

We had that overload in sophomore year, with state science fair and the trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on the same week, just a week before the AP exams and the underwater ROV and immediately after the performance for the theater troupe. Those 3 weeks were insane, and the weeks leading up to them were not much better. And this is for a student who was homeschooled, so we had flexibility on everything that did not have an externally imposed deadline, and could skip some optional things (like the state testing).

This year we are trying for some more sanity (like not doing the underwater ROV contest), but the Oregon Shakespeare Festival trip conflicts with both AP Computer Science and AP Spanish tests (though not with science fair this year).

Tests that don't need studying for (like the SAT, the AMC 12, and F=ma) take up very little time. It is the big things (like science fair or theater productions) that eat up the time.

He has not yet decided whether to enter science fair—he has a project that he put a couple of months into and would be suitable, but doesn't know whether it is worth the time to write it up and make a poster.

I don't know how we're going to schedule college visits.