AP credit policy change attracts media attention

Most Ivy League schools allow students limited credits and placement for AP, A-level and IB scores, while Dartmouth will stop granting credit in 2014.

Since announcing that it would no longer award students credit for high scores on Advanced Placement, A-level and International Baccalaureate exams, Dartmouth has found itself in the middle of a national media frenzy, with the new policy covered in outlets including The New York Times, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post.

Some of the initial news reports incorrectly characterized the College as having discredited the AP exams’ value, which may explain why the policy change garnered media attention, media relations director Justin Anderson said.

“This is a Dartmouth policy for Dartmouth, not intended to be looked at by the rest of the Ivy League or other colleges as something that is in their best interest as well,” Anderson said.

The faculty voted to change the College’s policy in November after 10 years of deliberation, Anderson said. The policy will go into effect in the fall of 2014 for members of the Class of 2018.

Initial news reports on Dartmouth’s policy change emphasized comments made by classics professor Hakan Tell, chair of the Committee on Instruction, who proposed the change to the faculty body.

In interviews with The New York Times and Inside Higher Ed, Tell said that only 10 percent of 100 students who scored a five on their AP psychology exams passed Dartmouth’s introductory psychology placement exam. While Tell called AP courses “extremely useful and valuable” for high school students, he said they were not comparable to college courses.

Tell’s comment prompted a strong reaction from the College Board, which maintains that its AP exams are on par with college-level tests. AP courses and exams are designed by 5,400 faculty from the nation’s leading colleges and universities to ensure the tests cover college-level material.

“We maintain quite strongly that AP standards are college-level standards,” Deborah Davis, College Board college readiness communications director, said. “Empirical resources outside of College Board have shown AP students performing as well or better than college students.”

Michael Mastanduno, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, issued a press release on the College’s behalf clarifying the policy change in response to the spread of misinformation.

In the release, Mastanduno wrote that Tell’s comment about the College’s internal placement tests was “neither peer-reviewed research nor undertaken to be a general statement about the value of AP courses, and should not be characterized as such.”

Mastanduno responded more directly to what he considered misrepresented accounts of Dartmouth’s policy change in a letter in The Washington Post, in which he wrote that “the decision’s rationale is rooted in our faculty’s belief that high AP exam scores are not a substitute for a Dartmouth undergraduate class.”

Dartmouth has been a member of the College Board for over 100 years. Davis said the organization was glad to see the College clarify its new policy.

“We at the College Board have utmost respect for Dartmouth and any college that wishes to make its own policies,” Davis said. “But we stand behind our own empirical research that AP courses are comparable in content, skill and learning outcomes to college-level work.” Dartmouth’s policy change is not part of a larger national trend of colleges and universities turning away from awarding credits for AP coursework.

In 2012, 3,300 colleges and universities in the U.S. and approximately 300 outside awarded credit, placement and special consideration in the admissions process to AP test-takers.

Davis said this number has remained relatively stable over the past five years, with just 1 to 3 percent of colleges modifying their standards for accepting AP credit each year.

Dartmouth will reevaluate its policy change in 2017, three years after implementation.

Although some national media sources have criticized the change because it will not allow students to use AP credits to graduate early and save tuition money, Anderson said that most Dartmouth students currently use AP credits to place out of classes, not to graduate early.

Nationally, the average U.S. student graduates in six years, often because of financial problems that prevent students to attend college for consecutive terms, Davis said.

In this case, AP exams can help students graduate in four years, she said.

At Dartmouth, however, most students already graduate in four years, Anderson said. Dartmouth’s commitment to providing need-based financial aid will continue to make the College affordable for students, and the College awarded over $80 million in need-based aid to students in 2012.

Because of the Dartmouth Plan’s flexibility, Anderson said that students who wish to graduate early will still be able to once the change goes into effect. Students can take up to three four-course terms without paying extra tuition and adjust their D-Plan to be enrolled in classes for additional consecutive terms.

Currently, 80 percent of students graduate in 12 terms, according to Registrar Meredith Braz. First-year students may transfer up to 4 credits from other colleges or universities when they matriculate.

Most other Ivy League schools allow students limited credits and placement for high scores on AP, A-level and IB exams.

Harvard University permits students to satisfy its language credit and place out of some introductory courses with the tests. Stanford University allows students to receive elective credits for high AP exam scores.

Cornell University allows limited credits and placement out of introductory courses. Some academic departments require their own internal exams for placement, similar to Dartmouth’s existing policy.

Yale University awards “acceleration credits” for high test scores, allowing students to advance to intermediate courses and potentially graduate early. Princeton University allows placement out of language and some introductory science and economics classes. Using these credits, Princeton students can graduate in three or three and a half years, but most choose to graduate in four years.

Brown University allows students to use AP scores to place out of introductory classes. The credit, however, cannot be counted toward graduation requirements.

Amherst College and Williams College do not allow students to graduate early using AP credits.

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