Admissions 101: AP takes step toward International Baccalaureate-like credential


The International baccalaureate program which offers honors-level classes in many Washington area high schools, is branching into career and technical education. Rockville High School is one of the first schools in Montgomery County to try the new curriculum. (Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST)

On Monday, AP announced another big change, adding a project component that sounds very much like the IB extended essay required of all students who want to get an IB diploma. But in some ways it goes even further.

The College Board, owner of AP, said it was joining with the University of Cambridge International Examinations to offer an "AP/Cambridge Capstone Program and Credential." This will be piloted in 15 to 18 schools around the world, including four in the Miami-Dade County school system.

It will consist of a junior year Interdisciplinary Investigations and Critical Reasoning Seminar in which students working often in teams will research and write a project "exploring a specific topic of global relevance." In their senior year students may choose to enroll in the Capstone Research Project. The College Board said '"it culminates in a 4,500- to 5,000-word academic paper, which enables students to develop practical skills in research methodology and the skills to manage a sustained piece of academic work."

Up to now, the biggest advantage IB had over AP was its emphasis on writing, particularly the 4,000-word extended essay. Will this College Board addition be a big improvement for AP schools?

It will mean, of course, if a student takes one of these new courses they will have less time on their schedule for other AP courses they might have taken. Can their school faculties handle this kind of challenge? It is an enormous commitment of time for the teachers at IB schools. What will this do to the pressures that have already caused some teachers, students and parents to complain about AP and IB?

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.

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