New studies show that tough courses aren’t as great as they sound
by KATHRYN OLIVA
More and more students are signing up for difficult sounding courses. According to the Department of Education, the number of high school graduates who have taken these classes has almost tripled in the past two decades.
Even though students have signed up for advanced classes, they are not scoring any higher than students in standard classes on standardized tests and end-of-course exams. The reason is because the class expectations do not fit the name.
A recent federal study of 38,000 high school transcripts showed that the number of high school graduates taking advanced placement classes has risen from five percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2009.
According to researchers, schools label courses with impressive sounding names to fulfill parent interest in harder coursework for their children, and the courses make schools look good by offering these impressive classes.
“I am in honors classes and have been since my freshman year. When I read the description of my classes in the class selection book, they looked very challenging. They are very difficult, but some of the descriptions made them sound basically impossible,” said sophomore Emily Moyes.
In 2001, researchers at Michigan State University studied 13,000 eighth-grade students’ Timss, an international math and science exam, test scores. They compared the school’s math courses with the textbooks used in these classes. In about 15 percent of the cases, the textbook covered less than the course’s name suggested it would.
Researchers said that course inflation is easier to recognize in math and science, but it is happening in subjects such as English and History as well.
Disbelief about the actuality of the courses from parents and policy makers has led to the rapid growth of Advanced Placement courses. These courses are the College Board’s program of college level courses for high school students. Over the last 10 years, the number of Advanced Placement exams taken by students has jumped from 1.2 million in 2000 to 3.1 million in 2010.
Hoping to encourage tougher classes beyond the traditional program, politicians and educators in many places have promoted the Advanced Placement program.
Although the number of students taking these courses has risen, so has the failure rate on the AP exams. The exams are graded on a one to five scale. The percent of students earning low scores of a one or two rose to 42.5 percent in 2010 from 36.4 percent in 2000.