Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

AP Courses vs. Dual Credit: What's Best for High School Students?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

AP Courses vs. Dual Credit: What's Best for High School Students?

Article excerpt

Add up the credits for Advanced Placement and other college- level courses that Jaime Staengel took in high school, and the Rockwood Summit senior has quite a head start.

She'll probably begin her freshman year of college with as many credits as some sophomores.

The academic and financial benefits made the challenging classes worth it to Staengel, who says she's happy to save herself time in college by moving into more advanced classes sooner for a major in German. And she says her parents think it's great, too.

"It's saving them money in the long run," said Staengel, who is headed to Murray State University in Kentucky.

Thousands of students across the state took Advanced Placement exams this month. Proponents of the College Board-created program hope underclassmen see success like that of Staengel and sign up. But despite efforts by Missouri's education department and area districts to increase enrollment in the courses, the state's public school students still rank among the bottom in the nation for both participation and pass rates, even though both are up in recent years.

At the same time, area universities say the number of high school students taking what's known as dual credit courses is growing rapidly and argue that those classes may offer more benefits than AP for some students.

The two approaches dual credit and AP offer competing schools of thought on helping high school students earn college credits. AP prepares students to pass an exam to prove their mastery of college- level curriculum. Dual credit in effect enrolls students in college courses while they are still in high school, allowing them to earn credit for both.

Caught in the middle are students and parents who wonder which approach produces the best payoff.

Experts say both approaches can work. When done the right way, they say, many students are able to lop off an entire year or more of college before they even get there.

"It really depends on the individual student's circumstances," said Nicole Buesse, a high school counselor at Fort Zumwalt North High School. "Both (dual credit and AP) are very good options."

But there are pitfalls to both. And that can leave students who thought they did the work without the credits that count.

Students in AP classes, for example, may find that although they passed an exam, their score isn't high enough. At some elite colleges, even the highest mark doesn't count. And while dual credit offers students a transcript proving they completed a course, it may be a transcript some colleges do not accept.

Students and parents who want to shop for the best approach may find their options are limited based simply on the school they attend.

In Missouri, a push at least at the state level is building behind AP, after years of popularity for dual enrollment. For the first time this summer, the percentage of students passing an AP exam will factor into a district's report card from the state. Although dual credit courses also are considered, AP earns a district extra points.

Missouri officials regard AP courses as a mark of a school's quality, demonstrating that it is offering students challenging options to prepare them for college.

"There is a level of rigor that's established," said Margie Vandeven, a deputy commissioner for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Meanwhile, those national rankings that schools love to boast about by publications such as Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report use AP courses as a measure of excellence.

TWO APPROACHES

As education experts debate the quality of college credit courses, the issue for parents and students increasingly is controlling college costs.

"This is a huge asset to making college affordable," said Gayle Rogan, director of the 1818 Advanced College Credit program at St. Louis University.

The SLU program offers a dual credit approach. High schools that participate must have teachers who have been vetted and approved by SLU, which also oversees the curriculum. …

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