February 7, 2013

Giving credit where credit is due

University must consider academic standards, fairness in awarding credit for AP, IB exams.

Keep your score reports handy: The Maroon reported today that the College does not intend to stop granting incoming students credit for high scores on Advanced Placement (AP) exams taken in high school. This news comes in the wake of Dartmouth College’s decision to stop conferring credit for AP exams starting with the class of 2018. The school’s Committee on Instruction recommended the move after measuring a large discrepancy between performance on AP and college-level exams. This discrepancy is often a harsh reality for UChicago students who use AP credit to place into higher courses only to meet a staggering level of difficulty. In addition to placement, the College confers credit for up to six electives and Core requirements such as Core Bio and PhySci, two quarters of math, and the language competency requirement. It also confers credit for high scores on Higher-Level International Baccalaureate (IB) tests, albeit not as generously. Although College administrators are right to support these exam credit policies, they should consider implementing some changes to ensure that the policies promote fairness and do not diminish the importance of certain undergraduate education requirements.

While the Core Curriculum is perhaps the very thing that defines the College experience at UChicago, there is no denying that the sheer number of classes it requires students to take—15 in all, the lowest it’s ever been—is still quite a large chunk of the 42 credits required to graduate. For students with multiple majors or interdisciplinary interests, this commitment often seems to take up too much of a four-year plan. It is therefore helpful, and appropriate, that good work done in the past on AP or IB exams lightens the load the Core places on some students and allows them to explore different fields with their elective slots. By its very nature the Core is limited in scope, and can only be somewhat helpful in allowing students to explore their options. Moreover, AP and IB credit often provide students their only means of graduating early—an option that should always be attainable, given that fiscal constraints can arise for anyone.

That said, there are certain areas in which the Core should be reinforced against the encroachment of advanced placement. In particular, the standard for the language competency requirement is too low, as just a passing score of 3 or higher on an AP exam or a 5 or higher on a Higher-Level IB test is enough to waive the entire requirement in most languages. This is one instance in which the granting of credit for work done in high school is too generous, especially since the normal methods of meeting this requirement involve immersive study abroad courses or rigorous 100-level courses. Given the clear disparities between AP-level and UChicago-level language instruction, the minimum AP and IB scores required to deem students competent should be raised to 5 and 7, respectively.

Another area in which the granting of credit is perhaps too generous is that of elective credit. Currently, a 4 or 5 on almost any AP exam that does not confer credit toward a specific Core requirement will give a student a whole three quarters of elective credit, for a total of up to six credits. The idea of granting elective credit in exchange for work done in high school seems quite counter to what UChicago—or colleges in general—should try to encourage: academic exploration. Admittedly, students do not have to use this credit, and may take electives instead, but the College should not be providing students with incentives that oppose this course of action. At the very least, the College should greatly reduce the amount of AP and IB subjects for which elective credit can be granted.

However, conferring credit for certain AP and IB tests scores presumes that these tests are the only indicators of college readiness that warrant class credit, ignoring the fact that many students across the country do not have access to these tests. Through no fault of their own, these students are denied the ability to gain academic credit, despite the fact that they may be just as prepared for college as their test-taking peers. For example, according to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the 8th Annual AP Report to the Nation found that 80 percent of African-American students whose PSAT scores indicated readiness to take AP tests did not do so. While the report did not specify, this is likely due to the unavailability of AP tests in many schools.

As reported in today’s Maroon article, Dean Art said, “AP is shorthand for a curriculum that’s challenging and a good preparation for college.” While he is right to point to the relative rigor of the AP curriculum—and to encourage relying on AP scores as a valid measure of academic success in general—he uses surprisingly certain terms. The current system of granting credit for AP and IB exams is too liberal with regard to elective credit and language competency, especially given the limited availability of these tests. If the College does not amend these shortcomings, it will continue to undermine integral parts of the academic experience it is meant to offer.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.