'Tis it legal for Loudoun County Public Schools to charge students taking AP courses for additional GPA weight might be the least of our concerns. The spotlight Attorney General Cuccinelli has put on AP Exams should also cause us to question whether the $900,000 spent on them each year by Loudoun students are worth it.
LCPS puts much effort into marketing AP courses to our high school students of all grades ("[T]he goal to have virtually every Loudoun student leave high school with at least one AP class on his/her transcript is achievable in Loudoun." –Sharon Ackerman, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction), touting advantages such as increased rigor and college preparation, and college tuition savings and early degree completion, in addition to the significant bump given to the GPA thanks to the policy of adding weight to the course grade. LCPS's belief in the benefits of AP courses was behind its practice of paying for every student's AP Exam fee at taxpayers' expense, a practice discontinued two years ago due to budget issues. Now that students and families are picking up the tab again, they should pause to examine whether taking an AP course actually delivers on those promises, and if it's worth the money and time spent.
The exams' administrator, the College Board, and LCPS would have us believe that most colleges will exempt students from introductory courses (and possibly grant credit) if they achieve scores of 3 or better on the exams. Reading the fine print, however, should cause us to investigate both the colleges and the courses a student is considering. A great number of colleges require at least a 4, if not a 5, as the minimum exam score; some don't accept AP courses at all. Consider the Meccas for many Loudoun students, UVa, JMU, and Virginia Tech: UVa's College of Arts and Sciences grants exemptions for only two courses out of its list of 44 for a score of 3 (and none for four of them); the rest require a minimum score of 4, and over a quarter of them require a perfect score of 5; Tech's policies are similar, as are JMU's. (In anticipation of the question, George Mason is no different.) Given that, we should ask just how many Loudoun students achieve those necessary scores of 4 and 5?
In 2007, only 10 LCPS high school students scored at least a 4 on all of their AP exams. And not all of them necessarily were seniors. Out of thousands of Loudoun students taking the courses.
That universities are not accepting the "passing grade" of 3 as proof of mastery and college preparation is troublesome, and an indication that they lack full confidence in the actual rigor of the classes and courses. Also, there is significant research showing "that about half of the advantage attributed to AP experience can be accounted for by variables representing the academic abilities and experiences possessed by AP students prior to, or independent of, their AP course experiences." Factor in that most of the colleges targeted by our students make most of our AP students retake the introductory courses, we must at least question whether the promotion and proliferation of AP courses in Loudoun schools is founded in sound research.
At the very least, LCPS Guidance Services should provide clear and easily accessible analysis of the practices of AP acceptance at the colleges most popular with our students, as well as a report on how many students end up retaking the introductory courses once in college. This is another area in which school programs should be grounded in science and measured against actual results rather than good intentions. In fact, perhaps each high school should provide teacher-by-teacher reports on student AP Exam performance, since it is hard not to argue that testing to the teaching is exactly the point here.