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The Dialogue


Are advanced placement courses legitimate college courses?


AP courses are legitimate college courses, provided the students pass the AP exam.

Marjorie K. Nanian

This will be my second year grading Advanced Placement American government exams through the Educational Testing Service held at Dayton Beach, Florida. As an adjunct college professor for political science at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, I am very impressed with the difficulty of the essay exam questions and the strict criterion of the rubric (model answer). The grading of these exams is a very long and intense process requiring seven full days from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Last year, there were several college professors at the grading conference to determine if these AP classes qualify for college credit at their institutions. I believe the answer is yes. For example, the question that I was responsible for grading required students to discuss two out of four United States Supreme Court cases and apply the principles of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to these cases. This is the level of critical thinking skills that I expect in my college classes. It is also the method of training used in law schools regarding case law analysis.

Of course, there were some students who had no business being in an AP class, as evidenced by their drawings and letters of apology that substituted for a blue book answer. But the fault could be due to high school principals that push students to take AP courses that they were not prepared for. Other schools in Florida reward their teachers for students successfully passing the AP exam. Talk about motivation to do a good job! Other schools do not.

Based on my experiences and discussions with other graders—including high school and college teachers—I would assert that advanced placement courses are legitimate.

Marjorie K. Nanian, a life-long educator, taught high school before attending law school. Presently she teaches political science part-time at Schoolcraft College in Michigan in addition to practicing law. She is also a published author.


the teaching and learning environment in high school is not the same as that found in college.

Steve Reiter

Advanced placement courses should not be counted as college courses for many reasons. This may sound elitist, but, as a former high school teacher, I do believe there is a substantial difference between being educated to teach in a high school environment, and a college environment.

The level of subject knowledge needed to teach at the postsecondary level is greater than that needed at the high school level. Nearly always, the advanced placement course is taught by a high school teacher, and not a college professor. Some of these teachers—in fact many—have the necessary knowledge and skill to teach the subject at a college level, yet many do not. In any case, even for those who possess these skills, the learning environment is different, in particular, the freedom of inquiry and the maturity of the student. These two issues can compromise the quality of the course and student learning.

Another approach to advanced placement courses is to offer dual credit courses. In the community college environment, the students in this course are generally more capable than typical traditional high school students. So I really do enjoy this kind of a class and the students who take them. Nonetheless, I am leery of dual credit courses because they have some of the disadvantages of the traditional AP course, especially potential limits on freedom of inquiry. There is also an issue with preparation. Many students taking composition or introduction to literature in college are opting out of high school courses, like British authors, that are designed to introduce the student to more difficult reading material. In this case, the student should complete the designated high school curriculum prior to entering a college course.

Steve Reiter, professor of philosophy and English composition at Central Community College in Columbus Nebraska, has an MA in church history/divinity from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and an MA in secondary teaching/English from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

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