Sunday, February 07, 2016
A Study I’d Like to See
Community college course probably vary much more than AP courses do. Some community colleges are geared for transfer and are doing fully college-level courses—others are offering really watered-down versions of courses with the same names, but because they do few transfers, no one notices (or cares much). The AP exam provides a uniform measure of course level—something missing from college courses (community college or 4-year).
Here at UCSC we have 2 different physics series (UCSB has 4 physics series) and 4 different calculus series, all of which have somewhat similar catalog descriptions, but they are not interchangeable. It takes very careful comparison to determine which series a particular community college course should articulate to—catalog copy and syllabus is often not enough without examples of the homework and exams.
The AP exams often articulate to the lowest level series, which is good for non-STEM majors, but not of much use to STEM majors. http://admissions.ucsc.edu/publications/ap-ib-chart.pdf lists the UCSC AP and IB credits: only recently has physics started accepting AP credit, and the Physics C exams require a 5 to get credit for the engineering/physics Physics 5 series, while a 4 or 5 on Calculus BC gives credit on the (non-Honors) calculus track for engineers and physicists (Math 19).
My own son, despite 5s on both the Physics C exams, is retaking physics at UCSB because they would not give credit for any but the lowest level physics series—he is finding the course rather slow-moving and easy, and I've been encouraging him to try for one of the physics-major series, instead of the engineering series that is required for his CS degree.
When I was in high school I took some classes at a local, selective, private 4-year college as a part-time, non-matriculated student (not dual enrollment -- I received no high school credit for these classes). When I went on to attend Fancy-Pants Elite College That You Have Heard of in New England, they wouldn't give me transfer credit. Because they don't give transfer credit. It is not really about the course content. It is about sitting in the same room with members of minor European royal houses and the children of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
The score well on the AP Biology exam you have to have a far deeper understanding of the content, much sharper analytical science skills, and a better grasp of scientific writing than is required to earn a C in majors bio at most colleges I know of.
Recently I shared a copy of an exam that I give my AP Bio students at a committee meeting of faculty who teach our CC intro bio for majors course...the general reaction was a bit of shock and "our kids can't do this". And it's true.
Please note that I don't intend this anecdote to convey the message that CC students are held to low expectations; I honestly think freshmen at most four year colleges would struggle with the kind of skills expected on the AP Bio exam.
That half-speed aspect of AP classes is what caused Zucker problems when kids suddenly found they had to do hours of HW a week on their own, followed closely by spoon-fed teaching to the test and having to read the book. But I just think it is a waste of time. Why get 1/2 year of credit in one year when you can get 1 year of credit in a year? I would think the Alpha parents would go for it, but they might not like it when junior gets a B or a C instead of an "AP Pass" and a HS GPA boost.
And to be clear, I'll repeat it again: a HS student can fail a dual-enrollment class at a CC or university. I don't think anyone fails an AP class, and they might not even fail the HS part of the dual enrollment class (since I have no idea how that works).
But I also agree with HSBioProf that not all college classes are created equal. Students who transfer into my physics class in mid year from some universities have been known to struggle with the expectations baked in by the first semester, and I have seen a vast range of calculus skills.
Minimally I think the two options should be regarded by universities as equivalent. Both require highly skilled instructors. Both are academically more rigorous than regular high school classes. And in many cases both cover a similar amount of content in a similar amount of time. For example, a high school student could take Early American History and Modern American History as dual enrollment courses, one per term, lasting a combined year in length or he should could take a year-long AP American History course and scoring a 5 on the test thus resulting in most universities granting credit for the two aforementioned college courses.
Molly, your daughter's experience in dual enrollment sounds great. I live in a state, however, in which dual enrollment is taught almost exclusively in the high schools, by teachers who do not need a master's degree. For some courses there is a common final; others, not so much. The high school teachers teaching dual enrollment generally provide extra credit and all of the "cushion" that other respondents have suggested are part of AP. The best part, though, is that there is no requirement that the HS grade and the college grade be the same, so you can have a student with a C- in the college class and an A in the HS class.
So it really depends on what dual enrollment looks like where you live. I worry that too much dual enrollment exists not to give students a taste of college (which, research has shown, makes under-represented students more likely to attend and persist in college), but to fuel the alpha parent race AND to get "generals out of the way." Because why would we want to emphasize education?
I'm not surprised, I've attended two community colleges over my lifetime and I have an MS in Mathematics. I can tell you math, even calculus, at the CC level is much easier than AP calculus. I took pre-calculus, trig and calculus 1 through my high school DE program on a community college campus. We knew calculus was vastly easier than the course our peers at the high school took (AP Calculus). In fact is was so much easier (not to say easy) I decided to take calculus 1 again at the state flagship university I went to the following year. It was SO MUCH harder, I was very happy with my choice! I teach AP calculus now and I can tell you that class is every bit as thorough as the calculus course offered at "state flagship university". I don't know if this is still true, it's been a long time but the perception is still out there. Community College courses are not equivalent to university courses. If you want perceptions to change you'll have to actively attack that assumption. AP offers consistency or the appearance of such, which is better than you can offer at a community college.
This echos my experience with AP Biology.
AP offers consistency or the appearance of such, which is better than you can offer at a community college.
To those who suggest that some AP teachers give too much extra credit or inflate grades, I'll remind you that college's aren't evaluating the grade a student got in the class, but the grade on the exam. It's very difficult to game the exams (I would argue near impossible with the new revisions made to the science exams) without learning at least what you would have learned in the equivalent from a good four year school.
To CCPhysicist's criticism about AP spreading a semester course over a full school year, that's only true for some courses. Many of the most popular courses (AP Bio, Chem, BC Calculus) cover a year's worth of content.
And finally, I'll argue that since my AP class is all HS students, I can explicitly teach them how to be college students and ease them into the work and skills required during the first couple chapters; this, I feel, leads to a higher success rate. Many of my CC Bio majors get in over their heads early in the semester because no one has ever taught them how to be a college science student.
But unless every student takes BC without taking AB, everything Zucker writes about the transition to a university class remains true. AP calculus students are not a lock to pass calc II at my CC.
What CFox writes at 8:05 AM concerns me a lot. That college should be reported to its accreditation organization for using unqualified instructors. Most of our DE classes are taught on campus, but the ones taught in the HS are taught by qualified faculty. Some are our own adjuncts, while others are teachers who have a masters and the same 18 grad hours in the field that everyone has who teaches that class.
One disadvantage to our DE program is that the courses available onsite at the HS are limited. While there are some minimum requirements for HS to take DE, we don't offer anything whose pre-req is the completion of the developmental sequence. Hence, my HS students can't take intro bio for majors through DE, so AP is their best bet to see what a REAL college science class is like. I have taught a nonmajor bio elective through DE, but those of us in the sciences know that it is a very different beast than a majors course.
We do offer DE classes that require completing developmental sequences (in fact, those are most of what we teach at the high schools) but we don't teach developmental classes to HS students. That is the high school's job. Students still in HS have to pass our placement test to be considered for ANY dual enrolled college classes.
As a result, we definitely teach "majors" classes to dual enrolled students, but those are all taught on the main campus. Those students are immersed in college like Molly talked about in the 5th comment from the top. Just to show what is possible with really talented home school or HS students, the top end would be students who complete three semesters of calculus, two of physics, two of chemistry, and maybe some biology before graduating from HS.