Last spring, Washington area students took more than 750 unnecessary Advanced Placement exams. At least 2,250 hours of effort and $67,000 in test fees were wasted because department heads in many of our finest colleges and universities haven’t a clue about what is happening in high schools like ours.
The students who took the unnecessary AP exams were enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program, a system of college-level courses and tests similar to AP. In a sensible world, good scores on IB exams would be enough to earn college credit, as good scores on AP exams do. But most colleges and universities don’t give credit for successful completion of some IB courses and tests.
The Washington area students who took a one-year IB course and did well on the IB final exam also had to take the one-year AP course exam in that subject, even though they did not take the AP course. Otherwise, they would not get college credit. Students who do well on IB exams usually do well on AP exams because the IB and AP courses are similar in content and rigor, as a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute confirmed. Some colleges will bump IB students to the next-level course but give them no credit unless they take the AP test.
There have been enough complaints about this in Virginia, with 36 public and private IB high schools, that the state legislature passed a law two years ago banning such discrimination. Kimberley Daly, a doctoral candidate at George Mason University, reported in a 2012 dissertation that many colleges are trying to comply.
That does not include the prestigious University of Virginia. It will give credit for a good exam score at the end of a two-year IB course, but not a one-year IB course. Good exam scores after one-year AP courses do get credit.
“A two-year course is simply not the same as a one-year course,” Daly wrote, “but changing the mindset of universities is difficult, especially through legislative mandates.” There are no penalties for violating the new Virginia law.
For the fourth time in the eight years I have been covering this issue, I asked U-Va. for an explanation. Did they have research showing the Fordham study was wrong, that students who completed a one-year IB course weren’t as well prepared as those who completed a one-year AP course? As usual, they revealed no such data to me. Maurie McInnis, vice provost of academic affairs, said the university’s policy was fine because it was the same as that of “peer institutions.” Those universities, I have learned, also have failed to check on the relative merits of AP and IB courses and tests.
One Northern Virginia student was refused credit last year at the University of Virginia for her one-year IB chemistry course and top exam score. She fought the decision for a month and won permission to take the next-level course, although she was still denied the credit she would have gotten if she had taken the AP test. Even with a late start, she got the highest score on the advanced course’s final exam.
AP has the advantage of being in many more schools than IB and having the greater financial and political clout of its owner, the College Board. But IB has been around for 30 years and is praised by college admissions officers. Often a department head will tell me that a former department head, now dead, established the anti-IB policy. The current head doesn’t know why. Daly said her study confirmed that “there were still department officials unaware of IB higher- and standard-level course work.”
Aren’t these eminent scholars supposed to base their decisions on research? They should learn something about AP and IB and stop wasting students’ time and money.