Advanced Placement inconsistency is troubling

All students deserve credit for scores of 3 or better

OVER 2.8 MILLION HIGH SCHOOL students this month received their Advanced Placement (AP) results, test scores that will reflect their proficiency in college-level curricula in subjects ranging from calculus to literature to biology to US history.

As Massachusetts AP teachers, we’re proud of our students who’ve received qualifying scores on their exam. We’re aware of the dedication and sacrifice that goes into passing these tests, and regardless of whether our students passed with lower 3s or with high 4s and above, we know our students deserve recognition for their work.

Many post-secondary institutions, however, do not view it that way. While students who’ve obtained qualifying scores can receive college credit and save on tuition payments, for the 67,000 Massachusetts students who took an exam this academic year, there’s no clear-cut way of knowing whether their efforts will be acknowledged by their campuses at all.

In Massachusetts, AP policy for public higher education is inconsistent at best, and inequitable at worst. From state universities to community colleges, AP credit is left to the individual schools to decide, leaving us with an arcane patchwork of guidelines that may undercut the hard work and considerable effort our students have invested in their coursework all year. A student who qualified for AP Statistics with a 3, for instance, may receive full credit at UMass Dartmouth (and save hundreds of dollars in tuition), while another student who achieved the same score will not receive credit at UMass Amherst or UMass Boston.

With rising college costs, we should be helping our students earn their degrees faster and more affordably, not placing undue limits or denying them credit for content they’ve sufficiently demonstrated their proficiency in.

These tests not only subject our students to high academic standards, but also enable our craft to align with national benchmarks of success and rigor; as such, we find it confusing that the hard-earned AP scores of our students are given or denied credit under the full discretion of the college.

At the bare minimum, all state public colleges and universities should recognize qualifying scores in some capacity, be they as credit for equivalent coursework or for an elective. Joining our legislators, we support the bill co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Moore of Millbury and Rep. Paul Brodeur of Melrose to require all Massachusetts public colleges and universities to accept all qualifying scores of 3 or greater for college credit.

Yes, colleges have the academic freedom to determine what’s best for their institution, but we also believe in having an equitable system-wide policy that recognizes proven achievement.

We don’t believe that colleges limit AP credit for their own profit, but an insistence on the status quo could raise questions about their commitment to equity. When colleges act as the sole arbiters of AP college credit, they disproportionately hurt our lower-income and minority students. According to The College Board, which oversees all AP programming, the majority of African American (60 percent) and low-income (54 percent) students scored the lower qualifying score of 3 on their exams in 2017. Unfortunately, many Massachusetts colleges only accept qualifying scores of 4 or greater for college credit. In other words, without an equitable mandate to ensure that all qualifying scores are accepted, many schools unintentionally impact underrepresented populations that stand to benefit the most from receiving credit.

Throughout the years, we have been both teachers and students of AP, and are now dedicated stewards for its programming. As such, we have no doubt in our minds that AP courses arm students with the right skills and mindset to thrive in college. We have witnessed first-hand how students not only grow as scholars, but even have their entire trajectory change as a result of their AP experience. Like any program, we understand that AP has room to grow, but we’re confident that success in AP correlates with success in college and beyond. As such, any measure that inspires more students to take an AP class is welcome in our books.

Meet the Author

Jamil Siddiqui

Teacher/Massachusetts teacher of the year 2019, 2020, West Bridgewater
Meet the Author
It’s ironic that Massachusetts, the nation’s leader in AP success, allows such inconsistencies in credit recognition. Passing this bill will better level the playing field and support our students and their families by giving them the credit they deserve. Otherwise, we are failing to fully capitalize on our students’ impressive, college-level achievements.

Jamil Siddiqui teaches AP calculus in East Bridgewater and was the state’s teacher of the year for 2019. Takeru Nagayoshi teaches AP literature and AP seminar in New Bedford and will be state teacher of the year in 2020.