Following a comprehensive study on the correlation between advanced placement examinations and college coursework, Harvard announced last week that it would not award course credit to freshmen for any score lower than a 5 — the highest possible score.
But Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said Yale, which has been conducting a study of its own for several years now, has no plans to change its policy in response to Harvard’s announcement. At Yale, departments currently have different standards for awarding acceleration credit or placement.
Brodhead said Yale decides how to apply advanced placement scores on a case-by-case basis and that requiring a 5 for all placements is too general a policy.
“Our thought is that the best way to solve this is by looking at the educational realities rather than by solving it by universal generalizations,” Brodhead said.
In recent years, Yale’s Teaching and Learning Committee has studied various disciplines individually and changes have been made when necessary. Brodhead said the committee has not yet completed the evaluation of all disciplines.
As a result of the evaluations that have been completed, Yale students must score a 5 in areas like biology and economics but are able to place out of introductory courses in subjects like mathematics or physics with a 4 or a 5.
“We looked at student performance in advanced chemistry courses, and it turned out that if you get a 5 on the AP you do better than average,” said J. Michael McBride, the director of undergraduate studies for the Chemistry Department. “But if you get a 4 on the AP, then you do no better than someone who hasn’t taken the AP.”
But McBride said performance on advanced placement exams is not the only criterion in determining which students are eligible to place out of introductory courses. The Chemistry Department also considers the results of a mandatory placement exam and previous coursework in physics and math.
“By no means do AP scores correlate one-to-one with how people rank in the class at the end,” McBride said.
Sandy Mong ’04, who received a 5 on the chemistry advanced placement exam and placed into freshman organic chemistry, said advanced placement exams were useful for placement purposes but did not indicate specific preparation for the coursework.
“On one hand, I didn’t need any of the skills that I needed on the AP for freshman orgo,” Mong said. “But on the other hand, I wouldn’t have wanted to take general chemistry over again because that would’ve been completely redundant.”
The Economics Department offered a placement exam until 1998 but now only considers advanced placement scores, said William Brainard, the director of undergraduate studies for the Economics Department.
“We found that students who got 5’s typically passed this exam and students who got 4’s typically didn’t,” Brainard said. “There was a noticeable difference, so we changed our rules.”
Unlike the Economics and Chemistry departments, the Mathematics Department still accepts scores of 4. Director of Undergraduate Studies Efim Zelmanov said the department accepts 4’s and 5’s because every qualified student should have a chance to try out advanced courses.
“What’s the point of changing the policy?” Zelmanov said. “If some student really insists on taking [Math] 120, then they’re entitled to try.”
While Yale has taken a more case-by-case approach to the topic, Harvard’s dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, Jeremy Knowles, said in an e-mail that Harvard decided to make the change after analyzing data for just a few courses.
“[We] have evidence (rather than mere suspicion) that — at least here at Harvard — a 4 on the AP exam is not an equivalent preparation to the Harvard course that it exempts one from,” Knowles said.