AP surges as a tool for schools raising standards

“If you have kids that are not necessarily being successful in high-school level courses, it seems like a logical fallacy to think what they need is college-level courses,” she said. “AP without sufficient supports is worse than no AP at all.”

She notes AP carries a cost—to students, in time they could spend on other things, and to schools, in assigning the strongest teachers to an often small group. In an era of tight budgets, more schools may conclude AP is a luxury they can’t afford. Martin says Baltimore’s Heritage, where he previously taught, has cut back on AP (Heritage’s principal didn’t return phone messages seeking comment).

But there’s also a cost of not offering AP: students who might benefit but never get the shot. That’s why the College Board believes there’s still room for AP to grow.

One figure stands out. Of last year’s roughly 3 million high school graduates, the College Board believes that based on prior academic performance, 770,000 had a strong chance of passing an AP exam.

But of those students, nearly two in three didn’t have access to an AP course. Among black students, nearly 80 percent who might have passed never took an exam. That adds up to countless missed opportunities for rigorous coursework, and countless potentially saved tuition dollars left on the table.

Packer cites the Baltimore academy as an example of places building up an AP program the right way, using it to inject a culture of high expectations and college focus where it might not otherwise exist.

“In those cases, who am I to say from the College Board, ‘You should not offer AP courses because your kids are getting 1s and 2s’?” he said.

Still, “it all depends on what educators do with the program,” he said. “No program is a silver bullet.”

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