Academic journal article High School Journal

How Science and Math Teachers Address Different Course Levels: Advanced Placement (AP), Honors, and Regular

Academic journal article High School Journal

How Science and Math Teachers Address Different Course Levels: Advanced Placement (AP), Honors, and Regular

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine how practices and attitudes of high school teachers vary when comparing Advanced Placement (AP) courses to regular and honors track courses. The sample included science (n=85) and math (n=58) teachers who taught both an AP course and either a regular or honors course. These teachers indicated their pedagogical beliefs, the emphasis placed on different learning goals, the frequency of practices, and student autonomy. Unsurprisingly, teachers reported having AP students practice for standardized tests and learn test-taking strategies significantly more often than students in regular or honors track classes. Teachers also emphasized homework more often in AP than regular courses, and they gave students assessments requiring constructed responses to AP students more often than students enrolled in their regular classes. Interestingly, science teachers indicated having significantly less control in determining goals and selecting topics in AP classes compared to regular or honors, while math teachers indicated often having significantly more control in AP than in regular courses. Greatest differences were found between AP and regular math courses. Teachers reported differing goals and practices that imply AP math courses integrate more student engagement, promote greater depth of understanding, and better prepare students for further study. Results also underscore the importance for researchers to understand which students are being considered when teachers participate in research.

Keywords: Advanced Placement, high school, science, math, mathematics, honors, autonomy, classroom practices, attitudes, beliefs, teaching, secondary education


High school teachers are often charged with the responsibility of teaching multiple types of courses. A science teacher may instruct a general science class in the morning and an advanced environmental science class in the afternoon. However, most research about teacher dispositions do not account for the possibility of shifting attitudes and practices in relation to varied courses. For example, the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) prompts secondary teachers to indicate the different courses they teach, but then teachers respond holistically about all their classes, such as asking how prepared they feel they are to assess their students (Goldring, Gray, & Bitterman, 2013). This type of aggregate method does not capture the nuanced approaches and attitudes teachers may possess for the various courses they teach.

Those various courses are often viewed as belonging to specific tracks: regular, advanced or honors, and college level courses. College level courses can be defined broadly as any course that focuses on "college level" curriculum. This includes high school courses that have arguably equivalent curriculum and rigor to a postsecondary level, including dual enrollment courses, which are administratively overseen by an institution of higher education. Here, however, the focus is on the definition of college level courses in high schools that are associated with high stakes end-of-year tests wherein proficiency on those tests can be exchanged for university credit. The most notable of these exam-based systems are Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge International Examinations [CIE). In American high schools, AP is the most common of the three and its popularity has been on a rapid rise with AP course offerings growing over 500% in the last two decades (Judson & Hobson, 2015).

AP Background

There are requirements, varying somewhat among the different content areas, which have been established by the College Board in order for a school to bill a course as AP. Notably, a course must participate in an AP Course Audit which may include requirements such as using appropriate textbooks, ensuring the teacher has read AP materials, guaranteeing the course is structured around key concepts, and submitting a syllabus aligned with AP framework. …

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