High school students who take an advanced placement class but not the test are no better off academically than students who never take an AP class, suggests a recent study by a group from Utah Valley University. The study calls into question the thought that taking an AP class will benefit a student more than a traditional high school course.
"There seem to be no academic benefits to students taking AP classes, unless they prepare for and take the corresponding AP test," said Russell Warne, assistant professor of psychology at UVU and the research group leader. "Some people believe that all students will learn more if they take AP courses, but our study shows that just being in an AP course, without taking the test, does not help students academically."
Warne and his team — which included Ross Larsen, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University, and Alyce Odasso and Braydon Anderson, both UVU students at the time — looked at more than 90,000 high school students from every public high school in Utah. They divided the students into four groups: non-AP students, AP students who didn't take the test, AP students who took the test and didn't pass, and AP students who took the test and passed. Then, after controlling for more than 70 variables, the research team compared the students' ACT scores
"It's very notable that students who enroll in an AP course but don't take the exam perform worse than those who take the course and the exam, whether they pass or fail," said Odasso, now a graduate student at Texas A&M University. "We weren't expecting that, but even a student who fails the exam is more likely to reap benefits than the student who doesn't take the exam at all."
So, what about those students who did take the exam? What benefits did they see?
"Students who took the AP test but didn't pass scored about .25 to .50 points higher on the ACT than non-AP students," Warne said. "The students who passed the AP exam scored an additional 1 to 2.8 points higher. That may not sound like a lot, but a one- or two-point boost can mean the difference between a student getting rejected or accepted into his or her dream school.
The study is also an example of UVU's commitment to engaged learning. Taking learning beyond the classroom, the University seeks to give students real-world experiences that will better prepare them to make an immediate impact in their chosen field once they leave UVU.
"Doing research during my undergrad was a huge contributor to me getting my current job at Qualtrics," Anderson said. "Not only did Qualtrics expect high GPAs and work experience, but they also expected extracurricular activities. Doing research was unique and helped me set myself apart."
Read the complete study here.
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