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AP Cut-offs

FAQ: Should we change our existing cut-off score on the Advanced Placement exam?

Sometimes English departments want to raise the level that allows waiver, placement, or credit for their first-year writng courses, raise it from a score of 3 to a score of 4 or 5 on the College Board Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Examination. But they get resistance from their administration and from the local high schools serving their institution, or they are asked to provide justification for the move. This Webpage provides some data, bibliography, and expert opinion that can help justify raising the cut-off.

The main argument for raising the cut-off score has been that a score of 3 does not possess good predictive validity in terms of a school’s first-year writing curriculum. Advanced Placement courses in high-school and performance on the AP Exam may not train or test for skills taught in the first-year course, or in the beginning course of a first-year sequence. Those skills may be in researching, use of sources, citation methods, complex argumentation, rhetorical critique, or any number of other instructional expectations built into the first-year composition curriculum. The students scoring 3 (which typically will be over half of the high-school students who sit for the AP Exam) are put at risk if they do not enroll in the initial writing course. There are other arguments, of course. An especially forceful one questions the logic of testing for writing skills with short-answer questions and a brief essay responding to works of creative literature. Another points to the poor record of minorites in enrolling in AP courses and in scoring on the AP Exams.

It is wise to keep in mind the distinction among waiver, placement, and credit . Waiver merely removes a course or courses from a student’s curricular requirements. Placement allows a student to begin at a certain point in a curricular sequence. Credit may or may not involve waiver and placement, but it always awards credit hours to the student. Combinations of the three are possible, and a student may be given three hours credit toward graduation, credit, however, not applied toward any particular course. Naturally enough, of the three the student and often the institution prefer advance credit. They are not much persuaded by the fact that the College Board titles its examinations “Advanced Placement” and not “Advanced Credit.”

For its part, the College Board does not specifically recommend how admissions offices use success on their examinations, nor do they recommend any particular cut-off point. They do define a score of 3 as “qualified,” whatever that means. And they make this statement: “Almost two-thirds of the students achieved grades of 3 or above on AP’s 5-point scale—sufficiently high to qualify for credit and/or enrollment in advanced courses at many four-year colleges and universities, including some of the most selective” http://www.collegeboard.com/press/senior99/html/990831b.html. The operational words here (some would call them weasel words) are “many” and “some.” See the piece by William Lichten http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v8n29.html for data that break this language down to specifics.

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Page last modified on December 10, 2005, at 09:17 PM