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October 7, 2014

More Students Taking Advanced Placement But College Readiness Remains Flat

In a departure from past releases, this year’s SAT results included results from the College Board’s two other testing programs— the PSAT/NMSQT and their Advanced Placement (AP) exams— providing a more complete picture of student progress towards college readiness throughout high school.

This year’s picture provides evidence that more students, especially poor and minority students, are taking more rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement (AP), yet such improvements have not led to an increase in college-readiness rates. Unfortunately, it is not clear why this is the case especially since the AP test-taking rates for the nation’s largest growing population, Hispanics, make up a large portion of the increase in AP test-taking.

Although Hispanic students made tremendous strides on the AP, as a group, they were less likely to reach the college readiness benchmark on the SAT. While nearly 43 percent of the Class of 2014 who took the SAT reached the college readiness benchmark score of 1550, just under a quarter of Hispanic test-takers did so. Moreover, black students who took the SAT were even less likely to be considered ‘college ready,’ as just under 16 percent met or exceeded the college readiness threshold.


The Findings


College Readiness

  • Nearly half (43 percent) of the test-takers met the SAT College-Ready Benchmark in 2014, which is unchanged from the year prior and slightly lower than in 2009 (44 percent).
    • The SAT College-Ready Benchmarks represent a student who scores a combined 1550 or higher. Students hitting this benchmark have a 65 percent chance of earning a B-minus grade point average in their freshman year courses.
  • Minority students are less likely to be college-ready.
    • Just 15.8 percent of black students and 23.4 percent of Hispanic students were college-ready, according to the SAT’s Benchmark.

Core Course Rigor

  • Three-quarters of SAT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is an increase from 70 percent in 2001.

Test Takers

  • Just over 1.67 million students from the Class of 2014 took the SAT sometime during their high school which was a 4 percent increase from 2013.
  • More minority students are taking the SAT.
    • Nearly half (48 percent) of test takers were minorities in 2014 compared to 46 percent just a year earlier.


Advanced Placement (AP)

  • In 2014, 22 percent of the nation’s 11th– and 12th-graders took at least one AP exam which is nearly double the number of students from just a decade ago, when 12 percent took an AP exam.
  • Even though more students took an AP exam, passing ratings improved as well. In 2004, just 8 percent of 11th– and 12th-graders passed an AP exam; that rate increased to 13 percent in 2014.
  • Hispanic students (19 percent) are taking AP courses at nearly the same rate as the overall national average (22 percent), yet black (13 percent) and Native American (12 percent) students are still less likely to take AP.
  • According to the College Board’s PSAT/NMSQT results, nearly 40 percent of PSAT/NMSQT had the potential to succeed in an AP course but never took an exam. However, such students may have taken other college-level courses such as International Baccalaureate or Honors programs.

January 29, 2013

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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