No APs without PA: The History of Advanced Placement Exams at Andover

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are hardly present at Andover today. There are only a few officially labelled AP courses, and they are only offered in the math and science subjects.

Despite the current lack of AP classes, Andover played a significant role in the founding of AP exams: in 1951, John Kemper, 11th headmaster of Andover, suggested that high school students take classes for college credit. The school would later take part in a study that eventually led to the modern-day AP program.

In the early 1950s during the Korean War, many educators felt that re-teaching material only wasted time and resources in the effort to win the war. As a result, the Ford Foundation created the Fund for the Advancement of Education (F.A.E.) in 1951, according to the journal article “Four Decades of the Advanced Placement”` by Eric Rothschild.

“One of the Fund’s early initiatives, called ‘preinduction scholarships,’ sent talented high school sophomores to the University of Chicago, Columbia, Wisconsin, or Yale to ensure them two years of college before they turned eighteen and became eligible for the draft,” wrote Rothschild.

This initiative received negative feedback from high schools, who did not appreciate losing their best students after their sophomore years. Kemper wrote a letter to F.A.E. President Clarence Faust expressing his concerns about the transition between high school and college.

“It appears obvious that school and college programs, especially during the important years from the 11th through 14th grade, have not been planned as coherent wholes. Boys from the best independent schools often report that their early courses in college are repetitious and dull. We are much concerned that some of our best boys seem to lose interest in their work during their first and second years of college,” wrote Kemper in his letter.

Kemper continued, “It looks as though the country might no longer be able to afford the waste involved in the transition from school to college, especially for gifted and well-trained boys.”

In May of 1951, Kemper proposed that high schools should give students the opportunity to take advanced classes, and once these students entered college, they would continue their progress.

A committee of educators from secondary school and colleges joined forces to manifest his idea. They conducted a study and shared their findings in a 1952 publication titled, “General Education in School and College: A Committee Report by Members of the Faculties at Andover, Exeter, Lawrenceville, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.”

The study involved fifty-eight graduates of Andover, Exeter, and Lawrenceville, as well as then-Seniors at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, who filled out questionnaires about their transitions between secondary school and college.

In the time after the study’s publication, a parallel project called School and College Study of Admission with Advanced Standing (SCSAAS) met to discuss the various components that would be affected by potential advanced high school classes such as graduation requirements and the length of college tenures.

After months of discussion, the SCSAAS administered the first AP exams in May of 1954. Each exam had a ten dollar fee and was graded on scale of one to five. In 1995, the College Board took over the AP Exams and have since facilitated them.

According to Maria Litvin, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, AP exams have continued to help students avoid re-taking material in college, although now outside of the context of a military draft.

“When I was in high school myself and took Calculus (in Russia), I was annoyed to have to take the entire year of Calculus again in college, as there was no mechanism for bypassing the course,” wrote Litvin in an email to The Phillipian.

Despite its role in the history of AP courses, Andover has since moved away from offering them. This decision was carried out gradually, and made because the school wanted to keep a sense of autonomy in what it teaches to students.

“It has to do with the curriculum. If you name a class AP Biology, you must submit the curriculum to be reviewed by College Board so it’s almost like College Board is creating the curriculum. Every year, every class you have that is labelled AP has to be reviewed, the syllabus has to be reviewed, and I think we at Phillips Academy didn’t want to have to follow College Board’s curriculum,” said Debra Colombo, Director of Standardized Testing at Andover.

A 2017 Business Insider article discussed Andover and the AP Exam and paralleled Colombo’s thinking.

Private schools, with the benefit of hefty budgets and small class sizes, are able to provide flexible, creative, and rigorous curricula…These schools don’t want to have to rigidly subscribe to what the College Board deems appropriate for mastery of a certain subject,” the article wrote.

According to Colombo, college counseling advises that students should concentrate more on doing well in whichever they classes they take, as opposed to taking AP classes for the score.  

“Students shouldn’t feel that they need to take AP tests just to get an AP score. We really want the kids to focus on their classwork because you lose a lot of time in the exams. And if you aren’t in an AP class, you are going to have to prepare yourself,” said Colombo.

Colombo found it “exciting” that Andover was involved in the creation of APs.

“It was really interesting that they wanted to pick some top schools to create a harder curriculum to see whether students could do it, and they gave it to Seniors… if you take this, will you be able to take college level classes [and] college level curriculum,” said Colombo.