The College Board’s first ever audit of its Advanced Placement (AP) courses is complete, and all stakeholders—the College Board, colleges and universities, AP teachers, and ultimately students—will benefit.
To protect the AP brand name and maintain course quality, the College Board instituted an audit of course syllabi in January 2007. In order to have their 2007-08 courses recognized as AP, teachers had to submit syllabi to the College Board, who assigned each syllabus to one of 839 college instructors for review.
“We were gratified by how many AP teachers and schools responded to the audit,” said Trevor Packer, vice president of the Advanced Placement Program. “We estimated that 105,000 syllabi would be submitted, but we received more than 140,000.”
Parents can use the [AP Course Ledger] database to see what College Board approved AP courses their child’s school offers and what courses are available at nearby schools.
The nonprofit College Board administers 37 Advanced Placement exams, which allow high school students to earn college credit or exemption from introductory-level college classes by achieving at least a score of 3 on a 1 to 5 scale. The audit process was developed in response to concerns by high school educators and college admission officers that the AP program was becoming a victim of its own success.
In 2007, almost 25 percent of high school graduates (473,330) took an AP exam at some point in high school, up from 18 percent in 2002. More than 60 percent of U.S. high schools participate in the AP program; in 2007, more than 2.4 million AP exams were administered worldwide. And more than 90 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities have an AP policy granting incoming students credit, placement, or both, for qualifying AP exam grades.
The audit was instituted, said Packer, to ensure that high schools provide the content and resources appropriate to college-level courses and to help college admissions officers evaluate and compare courses marked as AP on students’ transcripts. Because increasing numbers of students have been taking AP courses and exams, admission officers wanted a way to determine whether an AP class on a student’s transcript truly met the College Board’s requirements for college-level instruction.
Online course ledger now available
The College Board released final audit numbers in January 2008. “Out of 146,671 syllabi submitted, 67 percent received an immediate pass,” said Packer. “Thirty-three percent of syllabi on which the college professors had questions were resubmitted, resulting in a pass rate of 93 percent. Those 136,853 courses with approved syllabi are listed on our Web site for colleges, universities, and parents to check out.”
The AP Course Ledger can be searched by subject, school, and state and will be updated each academic year to ensure that only currently approved AP courses are included. Parents can use the database to see what College Board approved AP courses their child’s school offers and what courses are available at nearby schools.
Admission officers can use the ledger to develop school and student profiles. “Colleges plan to create indexes using this audit data to help them judge applicants, based on whether or not a school offers AP courses, how many courses are available, and how many, if any, a student has taken—a measure of what opportunities students have availed themselves of during high school,” Packer said.
“In the 2006-2007 school year, before the AP audit, 16,343 schools offered AP exams,” noted Packer. “In the current school year, 2007-2008, even more schools are registering to offer AP exams. But to get the additional benefit of being able to label the course AP and thereby qualify for the additional GPA weighting provided by many colleges and universities, you have to pass the audit.”
Packer noted that more students than ever before will take AP exams for college credit this spring. “But the audit is not about AP exams, which contain results that speak for themselves, but about the right to label a course ‘AP’ on a student’s transcript,” he pointed out. “What we found after the audit is that while 16,000-plus schools will continue to offer AP exams for their students, at this point only 14,383 are providing a rich enough curriculum, with sufficient lab time, instructional materials, and depth of content, to merit calling the course that leads up to the AP exam an AP course.”
The audit process for 2008-09 started over again in March. “Existing courses can roll over,” said Packer. “Only new courses or new teachers have to undergo the entire audit process.”
Audit process—time consuming but worthwhile
With the initial audit complete, Packer reflected on the results. “We learned that the process did not constrain teachers’ inventiveness in the classroom,” he said. “Ninety percent of the audit teachers said submitting their syllabi for the audit did not restrict their creativity and freedom.
“Teacher satisfaction with the audit depended on if you were an experienced or a new AP teacher,” he explained. “Experienced AP teachers saw it as another hoop for them to jump through. They didn’t really need help in designing a college-level curriculum.
“But new AP teachers told us the audit was essential to help them design a college-level curriculum,” Packer said. “They felt it was wonderful to have a college professor look at their syllabi and make suggestions.” A survey of 26,000 teachers who participated in the audit found that while developing their syllabus took more time than expected, almost half of them (49 percent) felt that they improved their course as a result of the audit.
Helping new AP teachers becomes even more important as the College Board braces itself for the oncoming wave of AP teacher retirements. “With 39 percent of AP teachers planning to retire over the next five years, the audit process provides a mechanism to ensure that new AP teachers design college-level courses,” stated Packer.
Because of those impending retirements, the College Board also plans to devote resources to professional development for new AP teachers over the next five years, such as scholarships for AP teachers to study their specialty area at a college over the summer. “The audit process—making sure course design is college-level and college-quality—is part of the package the College Board is putting together to support new AP teachers as they come online,” said Packer. “Professional development has to be a part of that package, and the College Board will support that to the extent of its nonprofit resources.”
The audit also offered the “huge” benefit of giving the College Board secure, electronic access to vetted AP teachers. “Now our audit teachers can check their students’ scores online, receive access to test exams available only to AP teachers, and receive information about the AP program,” Packer stated. “They can sign in to their course audit accounts and see how their kids fared on exam questions compared to students from similar schools, another tool to help teachers evaluate their teaching.”
Finally, the audit benefited students, added Packer, by providing educators with the impetus to improve existing or new programs and retain instructional resources. The 26,000 teachers who participated in the audit survey said the audit allowed:
- 17,000 teachers to prevent reductions in lab and instructional time.
- 16,000 teachers to obtain more current college textbooks for their students.
- 22,000 teachers to incorporate advances in the discipline that had not yet been added into their curricula.
- 16,000 teachers to receive increased funding from their school or district for professional development.
—Debra Bell Geiser, BS
Freelance writer Debra Bell Geiser holds a bachelor of science degree in agricultural journalism from Iowa State University. She is the mother of a seventh grader enrolled in a talented and gifted program and lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
AP Course Ledger
Find the registry of approved AP courses at www.collegeboard.com/apcourseledger