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Volume 18, Number 2
March/April 2002

Do AP and IB Courses Have Merit?

A new study by the National Research Council says yes, but recommends changes in how courses are taught


Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which are intended to be the equivalent of introductory college-level classes in a variety of subjects, are more popular than ever. The number of AP exams taken by U.S. high school students rose more than 10 percent in 2001 and has more than doubled in every decade since the tests were first administered in 1956 (see tables). Another accelerated program for high school students, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, has also grown in popularity. In 2001, close to 23,000 U.S. students took the IB examinations, more than half the total of 44,000 worldwide.

Some college admissions officers see AP or IB courses on a transcript as evidence that a student is ready for advanced-level work. But in a study released in February by the National Research Council (NRC), a committee consisting of college professors, high school teachers, and educational psychologists criticized the curricula taught in many AP and IB math and science classrooms. These courses, especially in science, place too much emphasis on content knowledge and not enough on the depth of understanding students need for college-level study, the committee found.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

For Further Information

For Further Information

"AP Central" website by the College Board.

J. P. Gollub, M.W. Bertenthal, J. B. Labov, P. C. Curtis, eds. "Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools." Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002.

W. Lichten. "Whither Advanced Placement?" Education Policy Analysis Archives 8, no. 29 (June 24, 2000).