New book discusses college credit available in high schools

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Advanced Placement courses are commonly incorporated in high school curriculum as a way to help students earn college credit and potentially avoid classes like English 150, Physical Science 100 and the dreaded American Heritage 100. However, one professor makes the claim that AP and IB (International Baccalaureate) classes might actually hurt more than they help.

Kristine Hansen, an English professor, co-authored “College Credit for Writing in High School: The ‘Taking Care Of’ Business,'” a collection of essays and research that indicate that AP exams, IB classes and dual enrollment courses may place a false sense of completion for students who test out of college writing courses.

The book recently won the 2012 Council of Writing Program Administers Book Award. The award recognizes works that administrators believe could impact the organization and the future of the profession.

The impact of Hansen’s work began before the publication of the book. Her research on the topic in 2002, which she published in several journals, was influential in BYU’s policy change toward credit from AP exams.  The school used to accept a score of three to get credit for freshman writing, but now requires a score of four or five to opt out of the class.

Christine Farris, co-editor who is professor of English at Indiana University, said, “We helped to get the conversation going in the profession.”

That conversation being the benefits and risks of awarding college credit to high school students, something many colleges are looking into and considering policy changes about.

“Changes like these happen slowly, so it may take a while before we know whether the book is having an impact in that respect,” Hansen said.

While Hansen believes that AP tests do add to high school curriculum, she added that writing is not something to simply “take care of.”

[pullquote]”Literacy is the way people make their living. If literacy is so important in the economy, we should make it more important to education.” –Kristine Hansen, English professor [/pullquote]

Hansen said students who arrive with significant college credits and move right into sophomore or junior level classes don’t get as involved in the “freshman experience.”

“If you are handing out college credit to kids as young as 16 or 15 and don’t require them to continue, you may be handicapping them,” Hansen said.

The issue, according to a chapter by Deirdre Paulsen, an English professor at BYU, is that “AP courses focus so heavily on preparing students to write timed impromptu essays for the AP test, they have little time to focus on other genres of writing—particularly research-based writing. The only thing that the students were really strong on were thesis statements and five-paragraph essays.”

Paulsen contributed to the chapter with research from her own classes. She surveyed 292 students in Honors 150, a writing course. Of those, 60 percent took AP classes before enrolling. Despite the assertion that AP classes are  comparable to college courses, 96 percent of those surveyed reported that the class was worth their time and taught additional skills untouched by the AP test.

For some students, college is the first time they ever write a research paper or navigate a library research assignment. Paulsen teaches English 315 and discovered half her students had never taken a college composition course or even a library tour. Most of them are graduating seniors.

That leaves Paulsen with the question, “How do I catch half the class up with what the other half of the class knows?

Hansen and Farris agree the issue at hand is more than just handing out college credit to high school students.
“It’s part of a larger trend  to connect K-12 to college,” Farris said.
Hansen said the actual question is finding out the best way to develop these literacy skills in childhood, or specifically ages six to 26. She also said future careers of students are under consideration.
“Literacy is the way people make their living,” Hansen said. “If literacy is so important in the economy, we should make it important in education.”
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