AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program

Philip M. Sadler, Gerhard Sonnert, Robert H. Tai, and Kristin Klopfenstein, eds.
Harvard Education Press

This book looks at all angles of the College Board’s Advanced Placement program—from its origins and development, to the current condition and characteristics of successful (and not-so-successful) AP courses, students, and teachers, and from the correlation between the AP program and later college performance, to policy issues of finance and access. Authored by a smattering of education researchers, economists, teachers, professors, and subject-matter experts, the volume aims to inform key players—not just school personnel, but parents, college admissions officers, and policy makers. A few main takeaways permeate the various chapters: First, AP courses alone cannot solve problems of high-school achievement and college-preparedness. Pushing AP courses into low-performing schools does not automatically raise student achievement; federal and state subsidies might better be directed towards building strong foundations for students in early grades. Second, participation in the AP program does not predict future college success; on the other hand, passing an end-of-year AP test does. Again, resources for classes in which few students pass the final exam might better be directed towards improving less-advanced courses. Lastly, the College Board should post results at the school and district levels, to make it easier for parents and taxpayers to identify those with effective AP programs. On the whole, the book concludes that AP has managed to maintain a meaningful level rigor in the face of expansion, but that its limitations must be recognized in order to put it to its best use. We’d agree on both counts. Buy it here.

Janie Scull
Janie Scull is a Research Analyst and Production Manager at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute