LETTER- AP classes don't add much

The recent Hook article on the proposed changes to the Albemarle County high school program of studies [February 8, "Moran's plan: Supe stops alleged 'dumbing down'"] was an interesting read. There is, of course, more to the story.

 Actually, it makes no sense to weight honors and AP classes. Not all high schools weight honors/AP courses, and the ones that do don't weight in the same way. 

So what must a competitive college do when it receives thousands of applications with different weighted and unweighted GPAs? The sensible answer is that they have to be converted to standard unweighted GPAs.

Most importantly, research supports unweighted GPAs. In a four-year study (1998-2001) of more than 80,000 applicants to the University of California, Geiser and Santelices (2004) found that the best predictor of college grades and completion– better than the number of honors/AP courses taken or AP test scores– was unweighted high school grade point average. 

That, Geiser and Santelices wrote, is "consistently the best predictor of both first- and second-year college grades... [and] the greater the weight given to AP and honors, the weaker the prediction...."

Many people assume that honors/AP courses are inherently "better" than "regular" courses, but five studies over the last five years fail to confirm that. The National Research Council of the Academy of Sciences (2002), Geiser and Santelices (2004), Klopfenstein and Thomas (2005), Sadler and Tai (2006), and Adelman (2006) all found marginal college benefits for AP. 

The NRC study found many AP courses and tests conceptually weak, spanning a mile-wide curriculum an inch deep. Klopfenstein found that AP students are "generally no more likely than non-AP students to return to school for a second year or to have higher first semester grades." Sadler and Tai say that AP courses do not contribute substantially to "student success in college."

 Given that the county director of curriculum and instruction and high school principals are aware of this research– or should be– I'm not surprised that they were all conveniently unavailable for comment. That's quite a comment in itself.

Mark Crockett
Kents Store

The author teaches at Western Albemarle High School.