Colleges reassess value of AP classes

| Sunday, June 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Bethany Bieisinger began her days at St. Vincent College as a biology major with an eye on medical school.

But those plans changed in her sophomore year when she switched to an English major and elementary teaching certification, a move that could have cost her an extra year in school and another $30,000 in tuition and expenses.

But the Advanced Placement literature, government and composition classes she took at her Johnstown high school gave her credit for related courses at St. Vincent and let her graduate in four years from the college near Latrobe last month.

That kind of credit is becoming more difficult to get at some colleges, and some school have stopped granting college credit for Advanced Placement courses.

Dartmouth College officials ignited a national debate when they announced that beginning in the fall of 2014, students admitted to the New Hampshire school would not receive credit toward graduation for AP classes. Brown University does not grant credit for AP courses and some departments at Columbia University have stopped.

Dartmouth officials stressed it was more about ensuring the rigors of a Dartmouth education than a lack of confidence in the Advanced Placement program, administered by the College Board, the same nonprofit group that runs the SATs.

“While the AP exams are rigorous and valuable, and we will continue to use them for placement, we want the Dartmouth education to be had at Dartmouth to the extent that's possible,” said spokesman Justin Anderson.

Deborah Davis, director of college readiness communications for the College Board said in an email that ”1-3 percent of colleges and universities modify their AP policies in any given year, with a balance between changes that allow for more credit and changes that allow for less.”

Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science accepted a 3 or 4 on an AP exam to place out of some courses — the top test score is a 5 — but now, students must earn a 4 or 5, according to Michael Steidel, the school's undergraduate director of admission.

A top AP score doesn't necessarily guarantee the skills the school is looking for, said Klaus Sutner, associate dean of undergraduate programs at CMU's School of Computer Science. Students are now able to take outside tutoring, and their scores continue to increase.

“You get a 5 out of a 5,” he said. “What does that tell me? Increasingly less and less.”

Duquesne University used to allow students to place out of composition classes after taking Advanced Placement literature and composition, but no longer.

“We want every student to have composition here because it is a building block,” said Debbie Zugates, director of admissions. “There is a research component that comes with our writing course.”

Some schools, such as Pitt and Penn State, have not changed their AP programs and still grant credit to students who score well on their tests. Since colleges have different standards, it makes sense that some would accept AP exams and some would not, said University of Pittsburgh professor Suzanne Lane.

Kate Wilcox is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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