Accelerated Pathways: Advanced Placement

By Becky Smerdon and Ashley Spalding (guest authors)

There are a number of paths that high school students can follow to earn college credits while in high school. This week, we are going to highlight three of these accelerated pathways: (1) Advanced Placement, (2) Dual Enrollment, and (3) International Baccalaureate. Today’s post is about the Advanced Placement Program.

In recent years, a growing number of education reform efforts have focused on improving high school graduation rates and preparing more students to enter college. New programs such as the Early College High School Initiative, the Comprehensive School Reform Program, and Race to the Top have been designed to improve education quality and better prepare students for life after high school graduation. Not to be left behind, Advanced Placement (AP), an older, traditionally exclusive college preparation program, has expanded in an effort to increase the rigor of high school coursework and enrollment in AP courses. As one of several accelerated high school programs, AP courses expose students to college-level curricula and provide the opportunity for students to earn college credit if they pass the standardized exam offered for each of the 33 AP courses. Developed in the 1950s as a program for the most academically advanced students, AP has gradually become a staple of many high schools’ curriculum and has most recently expanded to enroll a more diverse group of students (e.g., historically underrepresented groups).

The AP program has expanded dramatically in recent years; between 2000 and 2008, the number of U.S. high schools offering AP exams increased by about 30 percent to 17,400[1], and student enrollment in AP increased by about 70 percent.[2] AP course offerings have also grown and changed over time—from courses in 11 subjects during the program’s pilot in 1952 to a peak of 38 courses in 2006.[3] This expansion can largely be explained by the “AP for All” movement, a response to federal and state initiatives to increase access to accelerated courses and reduce achievement gaps. Also known as “open enrollment” or “open access,” AP for All encourages students from underrepresented groups to enroll in AP courses.

Guest Authors:  Becky Smerdon is founder and Managing Director at Quill Research Associates, LLC and a member of the National High School Center’s Editorial Team. Ashley Spalding is a post-doctoral scholar at the University of South Florida.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.


[1] College Board. (2009). Annual AP program participation 1956–2009. New York: College Board. http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/annual-participation-09.pdf
[2] Wakelyn, D. (2009). Raising rigor, getting results: Lessons learned from AP expansion. NGA Center for Best Practices.
[3] College Board. (2010). AP report to the nation: The 6th annual AP report to the nation.  New York: College Board.  http://www.collegeboard.com/html/aprtn/?excmpid=CBF13-ED-1-aprtn

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