Number of AP Test-Takers Increase in Public Schools

Although AP scores and the number of test-takers are increasing in high schools nationwide, these trends do not hold at Phillips Academy, where scores have increased somewhat and fewer students are taking AP tests than in years before. In a recent New York Times report, the College Board announced that more students in public high schools are taking Advanced Placement tests and earning higher scores than in years past. The article stated that the number of public school graduates who received at least a 3 on AP exams increased, but that the number of graduates who earned a 1 increased as well. Last year, more than 15 percent of public high school graduates scored a 3 or higher on at least one AP compared with 14.7 percent in 2006 and 11.7 percent in 2002. Andover’s numbers have fluctuated – 35 fewer students took AP tests last year than in the 1997-98 academic year. In 1998, 892 students took AP tests, compared to 857 students in 2007. The number of Phillips Academy students who received 5’s, the highest passing grade on the tests, has increased by 18 percent since 1998. The number of students who received 4’s has stayed relatively constant around 32 percent during that span, but the lowest figure was recorded last year with 27 percent. The percentage of 3’s earned has decreased from 20 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2007. Some colleges accept a passing grade of 3 or higher as college credit and allow students to bypass certain introductory courses. But Andover students now take AP’s to demonstrate that they have learned the material in their classes, not just in hopes of earning college credit. Director of College Counseling John Anderson said that the AP tests are just as difficult as they always have been and are a good “tool” for students applying to college. “For good or bad, AP’s have become an indicator for rigorous courses,” said Instructor in Chemistry Paul Cernota. Cernota teaches Chemistry 580, whose course description states that the class “prepares students for the Advanced Placement examination and also includes topics beyond the AP syllabus.” Cernota said that he does not go out of his way to teach his students exactly what is on the AP exam. The material Cernota covers in class simply overlaps with what is on the AP chemistry exam. However, Cernota said that he is “mindful” of doing practice AP problems in class to prepare his students for the exam. Anderson said that his office advises its students to take Advanced Placement exams because they are “one way to represent academic ability.” According to Anderson, advanced courses in the Andover curriculum prepare students well to take the corresponding AP exams in the spring. “Some departments feel that AP tests are closely coordinated with what they are teaching,” he said. Advanced math courses such as calculus, for example, tend to coincide with the material on the AP Higher-level English and History classes, Anderson said, do not aim to prepare students to take AP exams, but they generally equip students with the knowledge necessary to succeed on the exams. The extent to which instructors teach to the AP exams varies. Ryan Sullivan ’09, a student taking History 300, said that his history teacher occasionally distributes notes from an AP book to serve as review. Sullivan added that he took AP-style tests when he was in Math 600, Advanced Placement BC Calculus, but he does not in Math 570, Advanced Placement AB Calculus. Instructor in Music Derek Jacoby teaches the Advanced Placement Music Theory sequence. “I look at the test…flip through it every now and then, but at the same time, I feel that everything we do, we do in more depth than the AP requires,” said Jacoby. “Being able to cut out a couple of undergraduate general education classes can be helpful,” Jacoby said. However, he does not think it is advantageous for students who wish to major in a certain subject to bypass the fundamental classes in college. Some Andover students anticipate using their AP scores to bypass introductory level college courses. As a Lower, Kim Kuoch ’09 took the Chemistry, European History and Calculus AP exams and she plans to take the Music Theory and Physics exams this spring. “I don’t want to re-take classes that I’ve already taken,” said Kuoch. Kuoch thinks that the rigorous Andover classes are comparable to basic college classes and therefore she has no qualms with using AP credits to bypass. If she were at a public school, she might not feel so confident, she said, because they might not substitute for college-level classes. Anderson speculated that the increase in the number of public school students taking Advanced Placement tests is greater than that of private school students because public schools are opening more Advanced Placement-level classes to their students. AP’s, he said, are “students’ attempts to validate what they know” by proving their knowledge on rigorous tests.