Kerry Hart: The life and death of Advanced Placement


Advanced Placement is a program implemented by the College Board more than 50 years ago that allows students in more than 60 percent of the high schools in the United States - including Steamboat Springs - to receive college credit by taking exams for selected college courses. It has been a good way for some high school students to get a head start on their college degree while in high school. However, the AP program has not adapted to changes in pedagogical best practices and may have outlived its usefulness.

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities in the 2002 report "Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College," AP has become an obstacle to education reform as best practices in pedagogy are encouraging more in-depth, investigative and research-based learning. This is in contrast to many AP courses that feature broad surveys and superficial knowledge.

As AP continues to be locked into the pedagogical theories of 50 years ago, there are a growing number of private secondary schools - particularly those on the leading edge of college preparatory - that have chosen to withdraw from the College Board's Advanced Placement program and are replacing the AP program with their own curricula that aligns with best practices advocated by the AACU, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and other organizations dedicated to classroom learning.

The primary criticism of AP is that it teaches to a standardized test. Most seasoned educators believe - and their belief is supported by modern neuroscience - that covering large bodies of information that students must retain long enough to take a three-hour exam is not the best way to promote meaningful learning. Former President of Harvard University Derek Bok wrote, "It is extremely difficult to capture what students should be learning in a single set of exams, especially when colleges and their student bodies are so diverse."

If we don't allow a declining AP program to define the transition between high school and college, new opportunities for dialogue between secondary and college educators may open. Indeed, if we want the students of tomorrow to be the beneficiaries of the best education we can provide in high school and college, then now is the time to bring secondary and college educators together to make stronger connections for a richer, engaging and relevant curriculum.

Dr. Kerry Hart is dean of Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs. Contact him at 870-4414 or


Wilbur 8 years, 11 months ago

Dear Kerry,

Which AP courses have you taught? For how many years? Have you observed any current classes in action? Have you spoken to students currently taking AP courses?


Carrie Requist 8 years, 11 months ago

Your comment about the deficits of the AP test - "that covering large bodies of information that students must retain long enough to take a three-hour exam is not the best way to promote meaningful learning" - sounds like it can be applied directly to the CSAP and the effect that standardized testing has on K-12 eduction. I would be interested in your comments.


pmattimore 8 years, 11 months ago

I formerly taught AP psychology. I have also been a published critic of the way AP is being administered, particularly as regards the growth of the program without providing adequate underpinnings to make sure students taking the classes are qualified to do so. However, I disagree with Dr. Kerry, at least with regard to the subject I taught, AP psychology. True, teachers do teach to the test generally and the subject material is quite broad. In other words, a well-taught AP psychology class will closely resemble a well-taught introductory psychology class in college. High school teachers and college professors grade and design the test. The most popular AP psych book is also the best-selling text in the college market. The test is validated by having intro students at college take the test. Equivalencies between college grades and high school students' performance on the test are established. The test is an excellent measure of what a student should learn in an intro psych class.


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