The AP or Advanced Placement program is organized by the College Board. The purpose of the program is to offer high school students advanced level courses that are equivalent to college courses. These courses are designed to be rigorous and follow strict College Board guidelines on content. The courses are considered to be college level content courses that will challenge students and provide them with an opportunity to experience learning at the university level.
Each AP course is designed through collaboration of teachers, administrators, college professors and the College Board. The conglomerate decides what content is appropriate for the course, suggests books to study from, laboratory activities in the sciences and topics that must be covered. In the last three years, all AP courses had to go through an audit process to be credited as a bona fide AP course. All high schools had to submit a syllabus with their content and how it was covered. This syllabus had to be validated by the College Board in order for the course to be taught at that high school.
The original creation of AP courses was meant to offer course work to students that excelled at an outstanding level of academic achievement and had reached a level that went beyond the secondary school level. In recent years, AP courses have become an absolute norm in the high school schedule. AP courses are also now an absolute must for students seeking admission to competitive universities. Highly competitive students will take as many as four or five AP courses in one year.
Every AP course follows the outline that is agreed upon by the College Board. Each course has one calendar school year to expose their students to the material in this outline. Students often find that the amount of work that is associated with an AP course is far more difficult than they had anticipated. There is extensive reading, critical thinking and application involved in every AP course. This requires high school students who were used to rote memory tasks to stretch their academic reach to include application thinking.
At the conclusion of the school year, students sit for the Advanced Placement examination. The exams vary based on the course content. Some of the exams include a speaking and listening portion (foreign languages). Other exams expect a writing essay portion that elicits critical thinking skills that apply the knowledge from the course work. Finally, others offer complex problem solving tasks that can take a varying degree of forms based on the subject matter.
The exams are then graded by the College Board. The multiple choice portion of each subject tests is graded in the same manner as all other standardized tests, by computer. The essay, writing, speaking and artistic aspects of the course must be graded by subject professionals. The College Board has an application process for Advanced Placement teachers to grade exams in June of each year. The application process is challenging and a teacher must demonstrate superior ability in order to be chosen for this position. If there are essay questions the teachers must compile a rubric that will demonstrate fairness to all students. This is also the case for language, art and humanities.
In the early history of the Advanced Placement courses, colleges and universities would accept a passing score as credit for having taken a college level course. Credit would be given to the students and they could bypass the course in their freshman year. The increase in commonality of the AP courses has caused a devaluation of passing grades and the offer of credit to students. Even those schools who offer a student credit for a passing AP course will still suggest the student repeat the course.
The advantage to taking Advanced Placement courses lies in the experience the student will gain by having navigated the rigours of a college course. Students frequently report that they are less surprised by the course work in college and perform significantly better than those students who have not had the exposure to that type of course work in high school.