Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dartmouth and AP Psychology

You may have heard this week that Dartmouth College has announced that starting with its class of 2018 (those who enroll in the fall of 2014) it will no longer give course credit for any score on any AP test.

What you may not know is that much of the blame is being directed by Dartmouth at the AP Psychology exam. Specifically, members of the psychology department have been concerned that incoming Dartmouth students who passed the AP Psych exam with a 5 (and who presumably received credit for Psych 1) were not succeeding academically as expected.

So they had those students take a "condensed version" of Dartmouth's Psych 1 final exam, and according to Dartmouth, 90% of the students who had scored a 5 failed Dartmouth's test. What's more, Dartmouth claims that those students who failed the test and then proceeded to take Psych 1 did no better than students who had never taken AP Psychology.


Obviously, this is of concern. On the other hand, if you're like me, you're struggling to figure out what this really means. You probably have a lot of questions and want to see the data, right? As do I - and so on Friday I contacted the chair of the Dartmouth psychology department, Dr. Jay Hull, and asked if I could interview him by e-mail to get some specifics about this decision. He has agreed. The questions have been sent, and when I get the answers, I'll follow up with another post.

In the meantime, please share your comments and questions below. I would love for Dr. Hull (and other psychologists from Dartmouth) to see what real high school psychology teachers feel about this decision.

 --posted by Steve


Melissa Harwin said...

Well I feel like one issue is when is the exam given. you can't expect people to hold all that information perfectly months later without reviewing it? I mean they have just been going over it at the time of the AP exam, and of course not only that but Dartmouth's exam might emphasize different material. I mean, it isn't a perfect system, and it is hard to tell from the class results. As people who got a good AP score, might think they already know it, and not put as much effort in as they do their other classes where everything is new. I feel like it would be difficult to make a conclusion. i don't teach in high school, but from what I can tell the AP Psych and General Psychology classes cover the same general information.

Shana said...

In the past, my concurrent credit partner (the psychology liaison at the college that my students are able to get college credit for taking AP Psychology) has told me that she doesn't think her students would do as we'll on my tests and that mine are more difficult than hers. I've even had students who took Intro Psych but not AP come back from college and tell me how much better off they were in the class after having taken just one half of the AP curriculum. I can only imagine the AP students would be better off. I'd love to see this final exam that Dartmouth gave the students that they all failed and wonder how representative Dartmouth's intro class is compared to other intro classes across the country...

mvita said...

I am saddened to hear this. While I have never had a former AP student attend Dartmouth, many of my students who go to other prestigious schools (e.g. - University of Pennsylvania) and report AP Psych as a favorable and beneficial experience. Thanks Steve for asking about the Dartmouth test/expectations: If there's something lacking in our courses, AP Psych teachers would be up for a challenge.

Many AP Psych teachers have former students return declaring the benefits of AP Psych! Dartmouth's perspective is new to me. (Why, I just had a few students return who took upper-level psych courses at the University of Pittsburgh and they still performed better than their "older" peers! Many students, who attend state schools, say the "Intro to Psych" students breeze through the material in a superficial way. A handful of my former students admit they tutor freshmen classmates because of the semantic encoding that occurred in AP!)

I look forward to hearing Dartmouth's response.

Expat said...

Although I'm certainly interested in taking a look at Dartmouth's psych data, I'm more concerned that the College made a unilateral decision re. credit, thereby taking that decision out of the hands of individual departments. If, in fact, each department has arrived at an independent judgment that a corresponding AP course is not equivalent to Dartmouth's intro course, okay. But, I am guessing that is not the case; many departments at Dartmouth currently provide AP credit. In addition to interviewing Prof. Hull it would be enlightening to interview chairs of the history and foreign language depts., for example, since they currently give AP credit but won't be able to under the new policy.

Nancy Diehl said...

Really interesting story Steve, and I appreciate your modeling of a great way to GET DATA in your follow-up.

Melissa brought up an excellent point about time transpired and forgetting. What would a relevant comparison group would be to control for elapsed time without focus on the material. One idea might be non-psychology majors taking the Dartmouth final as sophomores? I wonder how the Dartmouth students as a whole would fare on the AP exam, that could potentially be assessed as well.

More information on the style of assessment might help guide our understanding.

Its a great question to pose to students as well to get to sampling, selection bias, external and/or predictive validity? as well as replication, sample size, "blind" grading and I am sure more. Many students in US (at top schools like Princeton, Stanford, MIT), UK, Canada, and Australia have all been in good shape to pursue upper level psychology after successful completion of AP Psych. Very interesting. Thanks, look forward to the follow-up!

Anonymous said...

Like many others I feel shocked by their decision. I too have students return from other high level colleges saying AP Psych prepared them very well.
I wonder if Dartmouth accepts IB credit still.
My other question is more cynical - is this motivated by money? I imagine that most of their incoming students come in with many college credits (perhaps enough to graduate in only 3 years). By removing AP credit students would be required to take more classes on campus which would ultimately increase their bottom line. I hope this is not the case, but I have trouble believing the claims of the psych department. I look forward to reading the answers to your questions.

psychology/Economics said...

kowI think that the main issue is about money, it is sad to say but that is what really drive upper education. I have never had a student comeback to me and tell me that they were less prepared then the students who took psych 101. Actually it is usually quite the opposite, my students usually brag about how much more they know than the kids who took psych in college and that is shows when they are together in upper level courses.

Now in fairness, most of my students do not go to Dartmouth. But I am willing to challenge Dartmouth that my students who are accepted into Ivy League schools will do just as well if not better than the average student who take psych 101 at Dartmouth.

Send me the test and I will give it to my students as a practice test right before the AP exam

Thanks for the discussion.

Phil Bressler
Dulaney High School
Baltimore, Md

Richard Tweedie said...

It's not a subject name such as Psychology that matters, but the transferable skills learned in a particular subject that counts for predicting future course course success. For example, a history course that requires extended writing will predict success in a wide range of courses because of the writing, not because the course is labelled, 'History'. I suggest that the generic requirements and skills of the AP course need looking at. The subject of Psychology has a very engaging and relevant content that can develop such skills. It's all about the future focussed transferable skills, not the engaging content.

Richard Tweedie
HOD Psychology/Philosophy
Hagley Community College
New Zealand

Eric said...

I think the methodology of this "experiment" is deeply flawed.

Dartmouth should run a second experiment where students who took Psych 101 at comparable schools (say, Columbia and Brown) in the previous year take the same condensed Dartmouth exam the following fall. This group would also get no review time. Then we could compare the data.

I would be willing to wager the difference between the two sets of students would be negligible.

Anonymous said...

Your readers might want to look at what some of the other elite colleges and universities are doing. Few of the Ivies give credit for AP Psych; most don't give exemption, either. Many top schools, like Brown, Williams, and Amherst, don't give graduation credit for AP in any subject. (Dartmouth is not at all revolutionary on this front, don't know why they're getting the press for it.) I have taught at a number of selective universities over the years, and all have struggled with how to evaluate AP=Psych. This is not a discipline with a "core" curriculum that everyone agrees on; that's why there are dozens, perhaps hundreds. of different textbooks out there to choose from, with no clear "bible." Where to draw the line between forcing students to repeat some material and allowing them to move to more advanced classes in ignorance is not always obvious. Personally, I would get rid of AP Psychology classes in high school, free teachers to develop courses to meet their own (and their students') interests (including honors sections if appropriate), and let college-level courses be taught in college.

Todd Keenan said...

It will be interesting to see if there will be a drop in applicants/enrollment at Dartmouth as a result of this decision. If I were a high school senior and had the opportunity to attend a school with the reputation of Dartmouth or the likes of Dartmouth - it is very likely that I will have AP credit from my high school courses. There are competitive schools out there besides Dartmouth that would actually give me my AP credit. I would go there, not Dartmouth.

Anonymous said...

Dartmouth has ten times as many applicants as they can accept. I think they can afford to lose a few without hurting enrollment. Even if applicant numbers drop off a little (which could hurt rankings, but that's a separate issue), it will be hard to know if that is because of the AP change or because of all the negative publicity surrounding hazing, binge drinking, and sexual assault.

Interestingly, some current students have come out in favor of the change. See, for example,

I'm an old goat, and the course has probably changed since I took it, but Psych 1 was one of the best courses I took there. It certainly led me to change my major to Psychology, and I understand why they don't want students to miss that opportunity.

--an alum