AP, IB, 5-6-7, 3-4-5? What is it All About and Why Should Faculty Care?

Irvine Valley College, Ad Hoc Committee on Transfer and Articulation Chair
Allan Hancock College, Ad Hoc Committee on Transfer and Articulation

What Is this Alpha Numeric Jumble?

Students entering our postsecondary institutions may carry an array of letters and numbers on their high school transcripts these days. With those notations come requests from students for recognition for their "advanced" achievement in their high school classes. Most California community college faculty are familiar with the Advanced Placement (AP) courses offered at local high schools; some are even aware that the University of California has made considerable effort to ensure that students in rural or isolated areas can prepare for those AP exams that can add a bump in their applications and perhaps even their intellectual engagement.1

Less familiar to us might be the International Baccalaureate or IB program-not to be confused with the College Board's own International Diploma. According to the IB Organization's website2, the IB is an integrated, pre-university, "two-year full-time program" that encourages "critical thinking through the study of a wide range of subjects in the traditional academic disciplines while encouraging an international perspective." IB programs have been offered since 1968 in public and private high schools in more than 125 countries throughout the world; in California, many IB programs are a-school-within-a-school, with dedicated classrooms, faculty, and resources for a smaller subset of students on that high school campus. Students in IB programs may earn a diploma from such a program upon successful completion of requirements that also include community service, familiarity with several languages, research projects, and "an inquiry into the nature of knowledge." Alternatively, students may choose not to seek the entire diploma but may complete IB "college-level courses and examinations."

College and university faculty have often debated the significance of AP scores; some administrators and faculty have decided that a 3 or better on any exam should count for something.

However, faculty who have actually been members of scoring groups for AP exams suggest more rigorous standards might need to be applied. An AP score of 3, for example, might be appropriate to award high school AP recognition and credit. But for it to be applied to college courses, students may need to receive a higher score of 4 or 5. Currently, the College Board awards the following AP scores based on the composite scores for the two-part exam students take (multiple choice and free response).

AP Exam grades are reported on a 5-point scale:

5 Extremely well qualified

4 Well qualified

3 Qualified

2 Possibly qualified

1 No recommendation

The IB exams are reviewed and scored "by an international board of examiners, who are themselves rigorously trained and monitored by the IBO." Tests are ranked according to a 7-point scale seen below. However, the tests themselves are of two levels-" standard level" and "high level" and receiving institutions usually award credit only for performance on "high level" exams.

7 Excellent

6 Very good

5 Good

4 Satisfactory

3 Mediocre

2 Poor

1 Very poor

N No grade

The Issues

It is these scores-from both AP and IB courses and programs-that students seek to use in the college and universities into which they enter. And there the dilemmas begin. What do the scores actually mean? How should they be used by community colleges? And how is our local use of them related to how UC and CSU might subsequently recognize them, particularly for IGETC, CSU-GE Breadth certification, or for major preparation? Because pressures to apply IB exam scores have only recently been more widely felt in our California postsecondary systems, UC and CSU have agreed to first tackle the awarding of AP credit.

The Variables

The University of California grants credit for College Board Advanced Placement Tests on which a student scores 3 or higher. The credit may be subject credit, graduation credit, or credit toward general education or breadth requirements, as determined by evaluators at each campus. Typically, students receive up to 8 quarter units towards graduation for a score of 3 or above.3

However, California Community College students who transfer to UC can't directly apply their AP examination score to the IGETC areas. If the CCC campus faculty determine that a specific score on an AP examination matches their course, and that course is on the IGETC pattern, then the transfer student can apply the AP approved score for that course to the IGETC area that the course is approved to meet.

The California Statue University faculty have an AP Equivalency List for the CSU GE/Breadth requirements. This allows community colleges to apply AP credit towards students' fulfillment of general education areas for the CSU: colleges may, but they need not do so. This permissive direction, taken from a CSU policy statement issued in 1997, resolved some variation in treatment at the CCCs, but may have unintentionally created other variances.4

UC and CSU also have the ability to use such exams for exemption purposes (from required math or English courses, for example), for subject credit, or for elective unit credit. Infrequently, some university departments may permit students to use AP credits for major preparation.

When California community college faculty approve AP examination scores as equivalent to their courses, students can receive subject credit and unit credit for that course, and the application of AP credit is as variable from college to college as among university programs.

Community colleges should never use AP scores for placement purposes as AP tests were never intended for that purpose and have not been validated for such use. Most frequently, then, colleges elect to use AP scores for subject credit (for example, an AP Score of 3 on the Art History AP exam would be deemed equivalent to College X's Art History 1 course; however an AP Score of 4 on the English Literature exam may be awarded subject credit for composition at one college and literature credit at another).

Unit credit only is given when colleges may provide elective unit credits without identifying a course equivalent. This may occur when faculty grant GE credit toward their own AA or AS degree requirements.

Problems for CCC Transfer Students

Given the variety of responses from the UCs, CSUs and the 109 community colleges, students who take the same AP examination, achieve the same score, and transfer from different colleges to a four-year university may receive different amounts of credit for their achievement on the AP examination-both at their home campus and the transfer institution.

The Academic Senate of the California State University and its General Education Committee worked to resolve some of the disparity in cases involving students who transfer to their institutions. Thus, in 1997, they published the list about the application of AP credits to equivalent courses for the purposes of General Education Certification, and discussions are now underway in the University of California.

Why Should all Faculty be Attentive to these Discussions?

Community college faculty have purview over the curriculum at their college to determine application of these AP scores.

However, many community colleges have no mechanism for a systematic and periodic faculty review of AP curriculum and credit policies.

The result is that students with AP scores may not receive credit for their AP scores and/or receive credit at one community college, but not another college-perhaps within the same district. Such decisions may also result in students repeating course material they believe they have already completed, thus lengthening their time to degree or transfer.

To benefit our students who come to our colleges with AP examination scores, it is important for faculty to determine course equivalencies when appropriate and publicize that information in catalogs and online.

These faculty discussions will often demand a closer examination of the alignment between AP courses taken in high school and comparable courses offered at the college, and the opportunities students have in a high school setting for genuinely advanced study.

Such work and effort is consonant with specific goals of the System Office Strategic Plan5Education and the Economy: Shaping California's Promise Today (esp. Goals B.3 and B4 regarding alignment with K-12 and Transfer objectives).

In Fall 2006, the Academic Senate Plenary session body adopted Resolution 4.02 (Advanced Placement [AP] Credit Policies), calling for the Academic Senate for the California Community Colleges to review research on AP credit policies and procedures conducted by local senates and develop a best practices paper. As that resolution states, it is very important for faculty across our system to ensure that the awarding of AP credit is "driven by faculty, benefits students, and is inclusive of all disciplines faculty deem appropriate for the application of AP credit." Ideally, to benefit our students, faculty across our colleges should, as called for in Resolution S05 9.03, "investigate the feasibility of establishing statewide standards to be used for the application of AP credits in each California community college."

The Senate's Educational Policies Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee on Transfer and Articulation, who sponsored the most recent resolutions, have some evidence that the AP equivalency lists-where they exist-are too seldom reviewed by college faculty and too often managed by non-faculty. While this article serves as a means to open conversation more broadly, the "best practices paper" called for in the F06 4.02 resolution may propose potential solutions for our local curriculum committees-and more importantly, for our students.

What's on the Horizon?

In addition to preparing such a paper, there have been other recent activities undertaken by other groups. During the same Fall 2006 Plenary Session, the body also adopted Resolution 4.06, Advanced Placement (AP) Equivalency Lists. That resolution called for the Academic Senate for the California Community Colleges to urge the CSU and UC system offices work with their academic senates to identify general education areas and major preparation patterns deemed appropriate for the application of AP credit. That request is currently being addressed in joint discussions among UC and CSU faculty; any consensus that is drawn from their discussions and their own Academic Senate directions, will then have bearing on what community colleges choose to do, and how they choose to apply AP credit for unit credit, for subject credit, for local GE patterns, or for graduation requirements.

Early reports indicate that the UC faculty will produce an AP IGETC Equivalency List similar to what is now available for the CSU GE/Breadth, and the CSU faculty will revise the CSU GE AP Equivalency List last reviewed in 1997. Both of these developments will produce welcomed benefits to our tranfer students.

However, what also remains-also very important in the current environment of developing Systemwide major preparation patterns-is to determine how AP Credit can be applied to course patterns arising through the UC Streamlining and the Lower Division Transfer Pattern.

Recent statewide discussions among articulation officers continue to raise issues associated with the awarding of IB credits; the California Intersegmental Articulation Council (CIAC) members have been assured that UC and CSU system administrators will next encourage discussions among and between their faculties concerning this matter.

It's only just begun!

1. For more information see http://www.uccp.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=148&Itemi…


3. UC Quick Reference for Counselors 2007-2008, p. 40.

4. Inclusion of Advanced Placement Examinations in General Education-Breadth Certification (Memorandum from J. Service, September 25, 1997, California State University Chancellor's Office)

5. For a comprehensive summary of the plan, see http://strategicplan.cccco.edu/Portals/0/resources/executive_summary.pdf