One semester after its inception, Miami University officials are still evaluating the impact of an Ohio law requiring the school to award credit to incoming students for scores of three or higher on Advanced Placement (AP) exams taken in high school.
According to John Skillings, special assistant to the president for enrollment management, the new law calls for more consistency in the way public universities in Ohio grant AP credit.
“The mandate came from the state legislature to have consistent AP guidelines across the state of Ohio, and a score of three was set up as the standard for the state of Ohio for all public institutions,” Skillings said. “Miami, before that time, had a mixture of threes and fours as the required AP score to get credit, and it varied by department and discipline for good reasons.”
According to University Registrar Dave Sauter, the change in policy facilitated a fairly dramatic increase in the number of students entering Miami with AP credit, as well as the number of actual tests accepted.
“In fall of 2009 there were 1,305 students who brought in AP scores, whereas in fall of 2008 there were 1,061 students,” Sauter said. “Those extra students plus the extra courses they could each bring in (with a score of three), accounted for about 1,300 additional AP test scores being accepted compared to the previous year.”
As a result of the dramatic increase in accepted AP exams, Skillings believed the new legislation could potentially undermine the effectiveness of Miami Plan courses.
“I think we’re finding that obviously more students are coming in with AP credit because of the three being the standard now across the state, and as a consequence they are completing less courses in the Miami Plan at Miami than they did in the past,” Skillings said. “What is important for us as an institution is to know that in the Miami Plan it’s not just the content but it’s also the learning style and experience that a person has in those courses, and that all fits together in a natural way with the Miami Plan.”
Because the modified AP credit system is so new, Sauter said the university is still evaluating the effect it may have on student success.
“We’re still in the midst of evaluating how the legislative mandates have affected Miami. So far, Pathways to Graduation, a committee chaired by John Bailer, has looked at just students who take Math 151 versus AP Calculus and into the next math class here at Miami,” Sauter said. “The preliminary data, and there is more work to be done, is that the students who took AP versus the students who took calculus (at Miami) were pretty much similar.”
According to Skillings, it remains to be seen if students who have been granted AP credit with lower scores will be less successful in future academic courses at Miami.
“In terms of success in future courses, I think the jury is still out on that,” Skillings said. “That is if a student comes in and gets credit for a first course with a three and then takes a second course, I think the jury is still out on that. I think the harder question is, when you look at a Miami Plan course, not only is it content but it’s also a style of learning and the four components of the Miami Plan are supposed to be present in those courses, and those four items are not always measured on an AP exam.”
Skillings said some of the value of the Miami Plan might be undermined by the lower standards for AP credit.
“I think that’s the concern that we have, that students who have gone through and gotten AP credit for Miami Plan courses may not have had an experience in high school that matched the kind of learning experience they would have had in a Miami Plan class,” Skillings said. “And to be honest I don’t think we have a complete answer on that, but its something we’re looking at very seriously as an institution.”
According to Sauter, it will take time to determine how much of an impact the new legislation will have on the liberal education focus for Miami students.
“One train of thought is ‘Oh my gosh, students are going to take their entire first-year and they won’t have any basis for our idea of liberal education,” Sauter said. “But another train of thought is that they are going to get their liberal education from different places. For example, what does History 111 look like at other places compared to here at Miami?”
First-year student Karen Otzen, who holds sophomore academic standing as a result of AP credits, said she doesn’t feel like she is missing out.
“I’m glad I got to replace the (Miami Plan) classes with AP credits,” Otzen said. “I think I have a good understanding of the classes that I took, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on the Miami Plan.”
According to Sauter, the jump in first-year students with sophomore academic standing has not increased dramatically despite the lowered AP credit standards.
“As far as sophomore standing, we tracked four years worth and the number has varied from 49 students to 73 students this year, so the change has been very minimal,” Sauter said. “When you look at a class of around 3,400 people, we’re not seeing a huge change there.”
Sauter said only time will tell the effect of the new legislation forMiami students.
“This is a true work in progress,” Sauter said. “Accepting a three or better (on the AP) and accepting them for all tests is really in its infancy.”