Journalism Student Performance on Advanced Placement Exams

By Dvorak, Jack | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

Journalism Student Performance on Advanced Placement Exams

Dvorak, Jack, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator

In the wake of various state and federal educational reform movements, the role journalism plays in schools continues to be questioned. But the reforms of the past 15 years have also stimulated programs- and accompanying tests that measure the worth of those programs- that link newspaper reading, journalistic study and other media use with widely accepted educational objectives found in elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and even collegiate curricula.

This study examines high school student performance on Advanced Placement English Language and Composition Examinations from 1989 through 1997. Specifically, it analyzes students who have taken an intensive journalistic writing course as preparation for the AP examination and compares their performance with those who have prepared for the same test by taking AP English composition or some other advanced high school English course.

First, however, it seems appropriate to review some tendencies in the area of journalism versus non-journalism student performance. The literature is growing in this area, and the results described in this study are not inconsistent with the positive performance of students in other studies who have had at least some of their formal language arts education taught from a journalistic perspective.


In a Florida public school district, 17 teachers were trained in Newspaper in Education methods, and their junior high and senior high school students received newspapers from a local daily three times a week for a total of 55 days (Palmer, Fletcher & Shapley, 1994). Standardized tests in vocabulary and reading by Science Research Associates were scored by SRA; writing samples were derived from The Official GED Practice Tests and The Official Teacher's Guide to the Tests of General Development and were graded holistically and without bias at the Florida Department of Education.

The Florida experiment compared three groups from pretest to posttest: Newspapers used as part of the instruction in language arts; newspapers available for students but with no formal instruction; and control groups in which no newspapers were delivered. Both middle- and senior-high students using newspapers improved more on all measures of reading and writing than did students taught with traditional materials (Palmer, Fletcher and Shapley, 1994).

Research by Blinn (1982) has shown comparisons of advanced placement and senior honors composition classes with journalism students of similar ability. In the study involving senior high school students in 12 Ohio schools, data analysis showed that journalism writers made fewer errors in most of the writing skill criteria than did non-journalism students. And they scored significantly higher than nonjournalism students in all four criteria selected as measures of information presentation and selection judgment: information omission, opening sentence, editorializing and errors in fact. Also, Blinn found journalism students made significantly fewer errors in word context, spelling, redundancy, punctuation and agreement.

A 1988 study of college freshmen divided them into four groups based on ACT English Assessment scores in an effort to equalize abilities in language arts competencies. Those with high school newspaper or yearbook experience had higher writing scores than did non-publications students in 13 of 16 test comparisons. All essays were graded by English professors under the guidance of ACT personnel (Dvorak, 1988).

And in another study students who had completed one year of college and who had been on the staff of a high school yearbook or newspaper, in 10 of 12 statistical academic comparisons, journalism students earned significantly higher scores than their non-publications counterparts: cumulative freshman college grade point average; first collegiate English course; ACT Composite score; ACT English score; ACT Social Studies score; mean score of the final four high school courses taken prior to the ACT Assessments in English, social studies, mathematics and natural science; final high school English grade; final high school social studies grade; final high school mathematics grade; and final high school natural science grade. …

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Journalism Student Performance on Advanced Placement Exams


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