While some University of Washington professors are experimenting with how to add depth to Advanced Placement courses, as described in a Seattle Times story on Sunday, one of their colleagues is doing research into whether A.P. classes — however they are taught — help students once they get to college.
Mark Long, an associate professor in the UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs, is one of three researchers exploring whether A.P. courses in biology and chemistry affect students’ college performance, and whether they spark students’ interest in majoring in the so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math.
The researchers will work with about 40 high schools across the nation that aren’t now offering A.P. Biology or A.P. Chemistry. Schools that sign up will receive the money they need to start the classes, mostly for training teachers and buying supplies.
The schools will randomly assign students who are interested in and eligible for the A.P. classes to the A.P. classes and non-A.P. classes.
In the short term, the researchers will test both groups on their skill in scientific inquiry. They also will survey students to see if the A.P. participants end up more interested in scientific fields than the control group. Over the long run, they will track the students’ college grades and graduation rates.
Few, if any, other studies have been able to compare students who are randomly assigned to A.P. classes and similar students who are not.
Some past studies, including one Long has done, have shown that A.P. participants do better than other classmates, but it wasn’t clear whether that simply reflected differences in motivation and skill between the two groups. Some studies also have shown that A.P. has no effect.
The researchers aren’t working with schools that now offer A.P. biology and chemistry because they didn’t want, for the sake of research, to deny some students the chance to take those classes.