Wash. U. stands by AP score policy

Ellie Kincaid

As institutions nationwide join the national debate over whether to offer credit for high Advanced Placement test scores, Washington University professors and officials are standing behind the school’s current and comparatively tightfisted system.

Dartmouth College announced last month that it will no longer offer AP credit due to a lack of correlation between the scores and preparedness for upper-level classes, sending ripples through the higher education community as the College Board has demanded to see the science behind the Ivy League school’s decision.

At Washington University, students in the College of Arts & Sciences can receive up to 15 AP credits toward graduation, a figure that Jennifer Smith, dean of the College, said is expected to remain.

“There is a value in the college experience—you don’t want people to skip over too much of it,” Smith said.  

Which introductory classes may be bypassed with high AP scores is up to individual departments that can review their policies each year. In some departments, students can bypass classes for high AP scores, while in others, they may receive credit toward graduation immediately or after completing a higher-level class with a certain grade.  

Skipping introductory classes was the original purpose of the Advanced Placement system, but the system has morphed over the years at different schools, said Dean Kristin Kerth, director of undergraduate advising for the College of Arts & Sciences.  

Now, at institutions like Washington University, AP courses taken in high school might have more bearing on college admissions than college credit.

“It’s a great way to show you did rigorous coursework in high school,” Kerth said.

The Department of Mathematics has found that high scores on AP Calculus exams are fairly predictive of student success in introductory calculus courses. Currently the department gives credit for scores of 5 on the Calculus AB and BC exams and will give students with lower scores the opportunity to place into higher-level classes through exams.  

Upon completion of a more advanced calculus class, students can receive credit for the skipped classes.  

“We encourage kids to take the class that’s right for them,” said Blake Thornton, coordinator of undergraduate teaching for the math department. The math department gives back credit for classes students bypass through the AP system, but not to students who take college classes in high school, though those students may also be placed in higher-level classes.

The psychology department has changed its policy on AP credits over the years—since 2009, students with a 5 on the AP Psychology exam can bypass Introduction to Psychology, but are not awarded credit counting toward the major. The department plans to examine the effects of this exemption on majors.  

Leonard Green, director of undergraduate studies for the psychology department, stands by the current policy of exemption rather than credit.  Green said a high AP score in psychology shows him that you have the required background—and can now can go on and pursue more in the discipline.  

“College should not be trying to get you to do the minimum,” Green added.

Brian Carpenter, an instructor for Introduction to Psychology, expressed concern that the University course goes into more depth and is more rigorous than its high school equivalent.  

“A Wash. U. degree has to be made of a certain quantity of Wash. U. courses,” Carpenter said.  “We want to protect the brand.”

“We should strive to get on that level,” freshman Harley Pasternak said, referring to Dartmouth’s recent policy change.  

Pasternak said he personally appreciates the value of a difficult and subsequently respected Wash. U. education.  

“It’s what I signed up for,” he said.  

Other students are content with current University policy.

“It’s nice I don’t have to take intro-level classes, but I understand why they wouldn’t want to give credit,” sophomore Lauren Yung said.

NOTE: Freshman Harley Pasternak’s first quote was originally attributed to Professor Carpenter. Student Life apologizes for the error.