Fordham Institute’s Survey of AP Teachers

The Fordham Institute surveyed AP teachers from across the country about the recent rapid growth of the Advanced Placement program. In general, teachers seemed concerned about the recent growth in the AP program and why the growth is occurring.

Here are some of the findings from this survey.

Findings

In a nutshell, the nation’s AP teachers told us that, even though they believe that the program’s quality is holding up in the face of tremendous expansion, they also see troubling signs in their classrooms from students who overestimate their abilities and parents who are overeager to see their kids in AP courses.

Six key findings follow:

1. The AP Program’s tremendous growth is largely driven by student demand. Students appear, however, to be focused on AP for utilitarian or pragmatic reasons, not intellectual aspirations.

a. Ninety percent of AP teachers say AP is growing because there are more students who want their college applications to look better.

b. Only 32% attribute AP growth to more students who want to be challenged at a higher academic level.

2. AP’s growth is also boosted by district and school policies. High schools seek to burnish their reputations by showcasing AP; they’ve mostly done away with gatekeeping (the practice whereby school personnel recruited some students into AP and discouraged or ignored others) for the program.

a. Seventy-five percent of AP teachers believe that high schools are expanding their AP program to improve their school’s ranking and reputation in the community.

b. Sixty-nine percent report that their high school’s AP classes are generally open to any student who wants to take them. Only 29% say there are limits on access, such as GPA or teacher approval.

3. The overall quality of the AP Program remains strong, despite its growth. Teachers report that course rigor, exam integrity, and student scores have changed little in the last several years.

a. More than three in four (77%) rate their own high school’s program as good (52%) or excellent (25%).

b. Fifty-nine percent say that the level of difficulty and complexity of the material covered in the AP courses they teach has stayed about the same; 27% say it has become more difficult.

c. Only 18% report that their students’ AP exam scores have been declining in the past five years.

4. But there are warning signs that the quality of the AP program is threatened, mostly because of concerns about declining student aptitude and skills.

a. Over half (56%) of teachers believe that too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads. Sixty percent think that many parents push their children into AP classes when they really don’t belong there.

b. Teachers are considerably more likely to report a decline in the quality of their AP students in terms of their aptitude and capacity to do the work than to say that student quality has improved (39% to 16%); 43% say it has stayed about the same.

c. More than six in ten (63%) believe that conducting more screening of students to ensure that they are ready to do AP-level work before they get in those classrooms would improve the program.

5. AP teachers regard AP exams as legitimate assessments of learning that safeguard quality — a sharp and intriguing contrast to most K-12 teachers’ unenthusiastic attitudes toward standardized tests and assessment-based education quality control in general.

a. Nine in ten AP teachers believe that AP exams effectively maintain the quality of coursework (86%) and are aligned well with curriculum and course objectives (90%).

b. Eight in ten believe that the AP exam helps to motivate and focus students (81%) and that AP exam scores at least partly reflect how well they teach (78%).

c. In contrast, a 2006 Public Agenda study showed that only 18% of public school teachers believe that standardized tests are necessary and valuable. Sixty-two percent called them “a necessary evil“ and 19% thought that they do much more harm than good. Another 71% of public school teachers overall believe that students are required to take too many standardized tests. Only 27% said that things are about right.

6. AP teachers working in the nation’s poorest schools — where more than 75% of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches report dismal student performance on the AP exam. Only 25% of these teachers say that most of their students score 3 or better on the AP exams, compared with 70% of teachers in low-poverty schools.

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