Our Views: College credit in high school

One of the closely watched indicators of rigorous academic quality in a school system is the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses. While Louisiana continues to be behind in that indicator, 49th of the states, the spread of AP courses is encouraging.

An AP course not only is more rigorous academically but in some cases allows students to enter four-year colleges with college credit. Over the last five years, AP enrollment has increased in Louisiana by 70 percent, according to the College Board, which oversees exams for AP courses.

As Education Superintendent John White puts it: “Louisiana has made great progress in growing enrollment in Advanced Placement courses but more needs to be done.”

In an interview with editors and reporters at The Advocate, White said that only about a third of Louisiana high schools offer any kind of AP course. That’s not good enough, because many students who do well in regular classes “struggle when they get to college,” and should have tried to up their game with an AP course or two.

For the class of 2011, which is latest available, 5.6 percent of public high school students in Louisiana scored high enough on an AP test to earn college credit. That’s a smidgen ahead of Mississippi, our savior on myriad national rankings. But that 5.6 percent is well below the national average of 18.1 percent.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted in 2011 to require that all school districts offer at least one AP course for college credit. Its program for improvement is impressive, including training sessions for teachers to start AP courses. BESE will also fund 2013 test fees for low-income students who take the exams, which cost $87.

In school performance scores, schools get a bonus for students who do well enough on the test to earn college credit.

All that said, there remains an impediment — which should not really be an impediment — to students taking AP courses. With the TOPS scholarships awarded on the basis of ACT college admissions tests and grade-point averages in high school, some students might opt to stay in regular classes rather than risk a lower GPA in an AP course.

Obviously, this can be counterproductive, in both the long run and the short run. In the short run, a student capable of AP work won’t be challenged in regular classes, and in the long run the rigor of college work might come as a shock to a student — and his parents — who thought that regular classes would suffice. College-bound students would be well-advised to take AP courses, as the state’s efforts to expand availability takes root.