Letter to the Editor: AP scores evoke college credentialing discussion

Editor

In our October issue, the story “Seniors slide, and so do AP scores” reported that many of Malvern Prep’s AP scores are on a downward trend.

To the Editors:

The Advanced Placement (AP) issue is a complicated one. Three immediate questions that surface for me are: A.) Why do schools offer them? B.) What do they represent? C.) How do students hope to use results from AP courses?

For many schools, AP courses represent the most rigorous course offered within an academic discipline and for purposes of this piece, I’m defining rigor as the top course or courses offered within a progression of learning. Working backward then, AP courses represent the highest level classes students can take at Malvern Prep. And because this is the case, and our students are seeking admission to outstanding colleges who demand the highest level coursework, AP courses populate many transcripts from Sophomore year on.

There is a problem though. The game we subscribe to doesn’t always add up the way we want it to. For example, what happens when a student learns that the University he has been accepted to does not accept his AP coursework, regardless of his score on the spring exams? What do we say to these students? Because it seems to be happening more and more.

All of this considered, analyzing AP Performance is an awfully difficult task. Sure there is a surface trend (good or bad), but the AP conversation runs much deeper. The underpinnings of student motivation for taking an AP course are interesting to me, as well as our own AP policy that states that a student must sit for AP Exams. I’m curious where we would stack nationally against other schools with an identical policy. Additionally, I wonder what it would look like to invite only those interested in taking the exam to take it. My sense is that things would change quickly when analyzing overall AP Scores.

APs represent different things to different people. I wonder if there is a way to capture these various motivations leading into a course of study, and if so, what might it look like for a teacher to know that some students are looking to score high on an AP Exam, while others were simply looking to credential internally for the course? Furthermore, what would it look like if still another set of students were working toward college credential for the same course, sans test? I’m hopeful that the college credentialing conversation is one we can continue to push, because it is important and one that extends well beyond APs.

Patrick Sillup

Assistant Head of School for Academics, Malvern Prep