Students can be affected adversely when preparatory courses are compressed or when students are allowed to skip prerequisite courses without first demonstrating mastery before taking an AP course. However, efforts to prepare students for advanced study often stimulate improvements in prerequisite courses; and this is to be strongly encouraged.
Advances in technology make it possible to create online AP courses and to provide other online support, such as professional development for AP and IB teachers. The potential for growth in this area is virtually unlimited, but so is the potential for problems if suitable quality controls are not established. For example, students who take an AP science course online and earn a qualifying score on the examination may earn college credit or placement without having had any advanced laboratory experience.
Decisions about awarding college credit or advanced placement for qualifying scores on AP and IB examinations are best made on an individual basis, using multiple sources of information. Decisions based on sampling average student performance in courses at typical colleges is not strong enough to infer that all, or even most, AP or IB students who earn a particular examination score are qualified for either credit or placement.
The primary goal of advanced study in any discipline should be for students to achieve a deep conceptual understanding of the discipline’s content and unifying concepts. Well-designed programs help students develop skills of inquiry, analysis, and problem solving so that they become superior learners. Accelerating students’ exposure to college-level material, while appropriate as a component of some advanced study programs, is not by itself a sufficient goal.
Schools and school districts must find ways to integrate advanced study with the rest of their program by means of a coherent plan extending from middle school through the last years of secondary school. Course options in grades 6–10 for which there are reduced academic expectations (i.e., those that leave students unprepared for further study in a discipline) should be eliminated from the curriculum. An exception might be made for courses designed to meet the needs of special education students.