Stanford AP credit policy: does it deserve a five?

Feb. 15, 2011, 2:03 a.m.

As the College Board prepares to roll out its revamped Advanced Placement (AP) program in the 2012-13 academic year, Stanford plans to retain its current policy on AP credit, which is heavily biased toward the sciences and mathematics.

The University currently accepts only fours or fives on most tests. It requires students continuing in foreign language to take an additional placement test and does not accept humanities or social science credit.

“The University’s practice is to leave many of these decisions up to the individual departments,” wrote Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education, in an e-mail to The Daily.

Credit for AP scores is especially important to students majoring in science and engineering, who often have a tough time fulfilling their requirements in four years. Chemistry, math and physics credits can place these students out of introductory classes and allow them to begin higher-level material immediately.

“The vast majority of math majors do have 10 units of AP credit from either AB or BC on their Stanford transcript, but it is not a requirement for the major,” wrote Gretchen Lantz, undergraduate student services advisor in the department of mathematics, in an e-mail to The Daily.

“By and large, people use their AP scores to help them decide which course to start in, following our general guidelines, and this seems to work rather well,” she said.

Brad Osgood, senior associate dean for student affairs in the School of Engineering, concurs. He said AP credit is considered to be “pretty reliable.”

“If somebody did well on the AP Calculus test, we pretty much consider it to be equivalent to a college calculus course, and they’re ready to start at the next level,” Osgood said.

He stated that AP credit also makes it easier for engineering majors to complete a co-terminal degree and study abroad.

But Stanford’s existing AP policy comes with drawbacks, including inconsistencies in the acceptance of foreign language credits. All foreign language tests except AP Latin require a score of five for fulfillment of the language requirement and the 10 units of credit earned. Latin, however, accepts a four or five to fulfill the language requirement, but provides no transfer credit whatsoever.

Meanwhile, the College Board is in the process of restructuring the entire AP program to address subjects in a more analytical way. Revamped courses are slated to focus on over-arching themes and critical thinking. For example, biology will be divided into four general themes, and U.S. history will be separated into seven themes and nine time-periods.

Revisions will begin with biology, chemistry, physics, art history, European history, U.S. history and world history. Changes will also be implemented in the French and German language exams. The math and English curricula, deemed more manageable in their current state, will remain untouched for now.

According to Elena Stephenson ’14, students are concerned about the type and amount of credits they receive. Of the five tests she took, Stephenson only received credit for AP Calculus. Her friends at other schools earned credit for at least two or three tests.

“Math is the one I didn’t really care about at all,” Stephenson said. “If my AP Calc got me out of the Math GER requirement, I would feel good about things…I got placed into Math 42, but it’s not like I want to take more calculus.

“I’m a fuzzy. I’m going to do something humanities related, so I feel like a year of calc is more than I’m going to need in my life.”

Stephenson said she would have preferred to have AP English Language and Literature count toward the IHUM requirement.

Laura McMartin ’14, who received fives on both AP World History and AP Government, also expressed dissatisfaction with the University’s current policies with regard to humanities.

“It’s frustrating that those tests count for nothing here, regardless of your score,” McMartin wrote in an e-mail to the Daily. “Why does Stanford only give AP credit for math, science [and] language tests and not humanities?”

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