A recent report by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) indicates the importance of a comprehensive AP policy approach at the state level. The policy analysis describes how in states with well-developed AP initiatives—AdvanceKentucky being one example—participating students were more likely than their peers to graduate high school, attend a postsecondary institution the following fall, and attain higher postsecondary GPAs.
The report also stresses that the typical positive outcomes of an AP program—increased course rigor, greater advantages for AP course completers and exam takers—are at best unevenly accessible across the states. To increase access, the report recommends that states adopt comprehensive AP policies to ensure “equitable student access to high-quality AP courses.” At a minimum, the ECS report recommends the following four components be addressed in every statewide plan: Access, Support, Quality Assurance, and Credit Transfer.
While Access and Support might appear self-evident, the Quality Assurance and Credit Transfer components are worth discussion. The ECS recommendations for QA include everything from reporting AP exam participation rates by student background to including AP course taking as a means for grading high schools, as Indiana does. More interestingly, in an effort to create a better data set around student achievement, ECS recommends AP course credit being contingent upon students taking the exam. In Arkansas, the approach is no exam, no weighted AP credit.
The Credit Transfer component might be the most controversial recommendation, if only because, according to ECS, some states are not requiring postsecondary schools to recognize credit for AP exam scores. Illinois just began doing so. Texas has gone even further, introducing a measure in 2015 mandating that postsecondary institutions recognize AP course credit when a student scores below 3, 4 or 5 on the exam—unless the institution can prove that a higher score is “necessary to indicate a student is sufficiently prepared for success” in that discipline. Texas has commissioned a study on the performance of undergraduates who achieve the higher AP exam score vs. the lower score Texas currently recognizes for credit.
When looking for templates for AP policy planning, the ECS recommends Arkansas as a model for other states to adopt. Beginning in 1995, Arkansas was the first state to legislate comprehensive AP policy, and studies show the program is working. As of 2013, almost half of Arkansas high school graduates have taken at least one AP exam, which puts Arkansas 4th nationally in state participation—and 1st nationally for overall increase in participation from 2003–2013. Arkansas reports a 400% increase in the state’s AP participation over that time. Kudos to the Natural State!
For more information, download the ECS report.