Column: Dartmouth Shows a High Regard for Itself
Most college professors rightly consider themselves part of an elite. They have doctorates. They have tenure. They’re special.
Few professors objected when the College Board’s Advanced Placement program began in 1955. It granted college credit for good grades on college-level courses taught only at elite high schools such as Exeter, Bronx Science and New Trier. Many professors’ views of AP have diminished now that the program is in more than 60 percent of U.S. high schools, including many where most of the students are low-income and low-achieving.
College professors tell me they don’t believe AP teachers can match the erudition and depth of published experts in their fields, like themselves. When I point out that many of the high school teachers they are complaining about have more experience and more demonstrated success teaching introductory college courses to teenagers than they do, they change the subject.
Almost all colleges give credit for good scores on AP tests because the program prepares students for the rigor of higher education and in many cases, according to research, teaches them more than they would get in college introductory courses. But a few colleges have succumbed to their faculty’s resentment of high school teachers showing them up.
The latest to do so has gotten extra attention because it is an Ivy League school. The Dartmouth College faculty, without considering any research, has voted to deny college credit for AP, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education courses and tests, all taught by those high school teachers who can’t be as good as they are.
Dartmouth classics professor Hakan Tell, chair of the faculty committee on instruction that proposed the change, said the show-of-hands vote was nearly unanimous, though nobody bothered to count. Tell said the faculty decided that the high-school-taught courses did not match the quality of Dartmouth’s introductory courses and should not get credit.
The Dartmouth admissions office still strongly recommends students take AP classes. AP scores will still be used in course placement decisions.
Tell said his committee looked at no research. He did not know, for instance, of a 2007 study by testing experts Rick Morgan and John Klaric. It found that college students who scored at least a 3, the equivalent of a college C, on AP exams in most subjects did better in the next level course than students who had taken the college’s introductory course. The study included students at 27 highly selective colleges, including Dartmouth.
The same conclusion was reached by a 2009 study in which researchers Daniel Murphy and Barbara Dodd looked at University of Texas data and by three College Board researchers in 2011 studying nearly 150,000 students at 110 colleges.
In recent years, Dartmouth’s psychological and brain sciences department has given nearly 100 multiple choice questions to new students with top AP psychology scores who want introductory course credit so they can take a higher level course. In nearly every case, the students have failed to pass the placement test and have not received credit. Tell said those results were not scientific and not the basis for the faculty decision to drop AP credit, but that leaves unanswered this question: Why drop credit for all AP subjects without any research?
Competition is healthy. AP teachers are judged by their students’ results on exams written and graded by independent experts. Professors teaching introductory college courses don’t get that scrutiny. Maybe they should, if we are ever to know if their self-regard is warranted.
Jay Mathews writes the Class Struggle column for The Washington Post.