Students' Perceptions of the Non-Academic Advantages and Disadvantages of Participation in Advanced Placement Courses and International Baccalaureate Programs

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Because gifted students, in general, learn quickly, exhibit great efficiency in problem-solving, demonstrate facility in understanding advanced and complex concepts in a variety of reasoning domains, and are proficient and creative producers of thoughts and tangible assets (e.g., Renzulli, n.d.; Tannenbaum, 1983, 2003), the interaction between gifted students and their environment produces situations in the classroom requiring curricular and instructional differentiation in order for them to meet their potential. One of the most efficient ways educators can deliver that more appropriate curriculum is by grouping gifted students with students of commensurate ability.


Social/Emotional Advantages

In addition to academic and intellectual (Adams-Byers, Whitsell, & Moon, 2004; Feldhusen & Saylor, 1990; Kulik & Kulik, 1992; Sowell, 1993; Wright & Leroux, 1997) benefits, research has linked ability-grouping, the "re-grouping of students for the purpose of providing curriculum aimed at a common instructional level" (Fiedler, Lange, & Weinbrenner, 1993, p. 5), to positive social/emotional outcomes for gifted students (Adams-Byers, Whitsell, & Moon, 2004; Gross, 1997, 1998; Lando & Schneider, 1997; Wright & Leroux, 1997). For example, gifted students have reported social/emotional advantages to ability grouping, such as not being teased because of their intelligence, being around other students who understand them and think like they do, and having a more trusting, faster-paced, and more fun class atmosphere (Adams-Byers, Whitsell, & Moon, 2004). Furthermore, high-ability students in homogeneous groups have exhibited more mutual support, encouragement to persist in the face of difficulty, and overall prosocial behavior toward each other than those in mixed-ability groups and homogeneous groups of students of average ability (Lando & Schneider, 1997). These findings are consistent with the "cohort effect," characterized by peer bonding, mutual encouragement, and affectionate guidance among grouped students of similar abilities and interests (Gross, 1997, 1998; Wright & Leroux, 1997). In general, past findings suggest positive social/emotional outcomes for grouping gifted students.

Social/Emotional Disadvantages

Grouping research, however, also highlights specific social/emotional disadvantages. For example, advanced students may not want to be singled out or treated differently and as a result of grouping, may suffer a temporary drop in self-concept when they are grouped with their intellectual peers (Feldhusen & Saylor, 1990; Kulik & Kulik, 1992), feel isolated from a wider sphere of friends (Adams-Byers, Whitsell, & Moon, 2004; Wright & Leroux, 1997), and face rejection by the rest of the school (Coleman & Cross, 1988; Cross, Coleman, & Stewart, 1993; Manor-Bullock, Look & Dixon, 1995; Schroeder-Davis, 1999; Tannenbaum, 1962).

Despite the possible disadvantages of ability grouping, the most common ways American high schools support the unique learning needs of advanced students is by offering Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, which are, by their nature, ability-grouped settings. The AP program is composed of 31 courses and 34 exams across 19 subject areas from which a student can choose any number to complete, and is more widely offered (College Board, 2005) than the IB program (IBO, 2003, 2005), a program of study that involves completion of a number of required courses, exams, essays, and projects during the last two years of high school (IBO, 2003).

AP and IB programs are generally endorsed inside and outside the field of gifted education (College Board, 1986; Cox & Daniel, 1985; Daniel & Cox, 1992; Feldhusen, 1995; Jacoby, 1992; Marnholtz, 1994; Pyryt, Masharov, & Feng, 1993); however, very few researchers have investigated their appropriateness for the needs of advanced learners (Callahan, 2003). …