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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools
awarded college credit or advanced placement in higher-level college courses (see Chapter 2, this volume). A high school can elect to offer one or more AP courses simply by scheduling the courses and assigning a teacher. Individual students can elect to take any number of AP courses, as their high school allows, and there is no requirement from the College Board that students who take AP courses and receive the AP designation on their high school transcript take the examination.1
The College Board has developed an AP Diploma that is being offered in the academic year 2000–2001 in 20 school districts across the United States. To earn the diploma, students must complete five AP courses and receive a qualifying score (3) on each of the five examinations. The five courses must include at least one in each of the core areas of mathematics, science, language arts, and history, along with one AP elective course. The College Board plans to offer the AP Diploma in all schools in the 2001–2002 school year.
During the past 45 years, the AP program has grown from a small program that served only the top students from largely suburban public and private high schools to one that now is available in a much more diverse group of approximately 62 percent of the nation’s high schools. The program experienced a decade of rapid growth during the 1990s as the number of students taking AP examinations increased from 206,000 to more than 760,000 a year. The number of examinations administered in a year rose from 277,000 in May 1990 to 1,277,000 in May 2000 (College Entrance Examination Board [CEEB], 2000c).
In its report Access to Excellence, the Commission on the Future of the Advanced Placement Program (CFAPP) (CFAPP, 2001) describes significant challenges to the program that have accompanied this rapid growth. Since approximately 34 percent of students enrolled in AP courses do not take the AP examinations, the first challenge noted is how the program can maintain the quality of courses and examinations and the validity of the AP credential. Second, students from urban, rural, and poor districts are underrepresented among those who take the AP examinations, and minority students are less likely than other students to take AP courses when they are offered and to achieve success on the examinations. Therefore, the commission notes the critical importance of finding ways to increase the equity of access to AP courses. The report sets forth goals and recommendations that would broaden the aim of the program by positioning it to enable many more students to experience college-level courses and earn college credit while in high school.
Some states and school districts require that students who receive an AP credit on their transcript take the corresponding AP examination. This requirement is most common in districts where students receive financial support for taking the examinations.