Some colleges putting the brakes on accelerated learning programs

There’s an interesting development occurring in the push to prepare high school graduates for college— and it doesn’t bode well, despite the very best intentions.

I read with a great deal of interest that a handful of Washington state lawmakers  are eager to expand a pilot program that automatically identifies high-achieving middle and high school students and enrolls them in advanced courses.

Federal Way Public Schools launched its Academic Acceleration Program in the fall of 2010 and has experienced overwhelmingly positive results. Since its inception, the number of juniors and seniors who have enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge Program class has increased by 72 percent, with the number of minority students taking advanced courses rising by 76 percent. What’s more, less than three percent of students who were tapped for this program opted out, while 94 percent of those who stayed in the advanced course received a C or better in their first semester.

This all sounds well and good, so, what’s the problem, you ask? Well, the potential problem lies in how colleges and universities will treat these accelerated learning credits.

A few weeks ago, Dartmouth University announced that beginning with the class of 2018, it would no longer be providing college credit for AP courses, declaring that the classes just weren’t up to the university’s high standards.

Just how rigorous advanced courses are — and how rigorous high schools are, for that matter— is a subject the Center for Public Education explored last year in its report, Is High School Tough Enough?  The study found that AP courses do seem to have a benefit for those students who take them, while the impact of IB is too small to measure reliably. Ultimately, the study determined more research is needed in this arena, particularly since accelerated learning programs have become a widely popular strategy to boost the college-going rate, as it can reduce the cost of post-secondary education, a major obstacle for many students.

Yet, it would seem all for naught, if just as many colleges began refusing to accept the Advanced Placement scores, whether out of legitimate concern that is not an adequate substitute for a real college curriculum … or, more nefariously, out of concern for their own bottomline.

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