General Assembly considers standardization of AP and IB credits

A bill before the Virginia General Assembly would require that all of the state’s public universities and colleges award incoming freshman students the same amount of credits for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and other college preparatory courses.

State universities and colleges in Virginia currently determine when to give students credit for AP and IB courses on an individual basis. This bill, HB 1136, charges the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia with developing a uniform policy for granting credit, ensuring that students with the same score on a particular exam would receive the same credits from all institutions. It addresses the Cambridge Advanced and College-Level Examination Program as well as AP and IB exams.

“It gives some equity, some parity for students applying from all different high schools across the Commonwealth to the public institutions of higher education,” Delegate Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church), one of the bill’s patrons, said in a phone conversation.

Originally filed late November of last year, the bill was introduced by Delegate R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta) and is also sponsored by Kory, Thomas A. Greason (R-Loudoun County) and Mark L. Keam (D-Fairfax) as well as Sen. Emmett W. Hanger (R-Augusta), according to Virginia’s Legislative Information System website.

Kory attributes her support of the bill in part to the ten years she spent serving on the Fairfax County School Board before becoming a state delegate.

“I learned then how capricious universities and colleges are about giving applying students credit for Advanced Placement and IB courses,” Kory said. “I thought that that was really a problem.”

The Virginia General Assembly previously passed legislation on college credit policies in 2010 with SB 209, which first required public universities and colleges to create policies for granting credit for AP and IB courses. The bill also required that institutions display their credit policies online. Because there were no specific guidelines that they all had to follow, the results varied from school to school.

For instance, a student entering Mason who got a score of 5 on the AP English Literature and Composition exam would be awarded six college credits, while a student at the College of William & Mary would receive only three credits.

The new bill is designed to correct these inconsistencies.

“It should be pretty transparent,” Wendy Vu, an IB coordinator at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, said. “If you’re going to a Virginia state school, you should be able to expect that these results will give you this kind of credit.”

While this is no longer a problem after the passage of SB 209, some institutions were especially slow to grant credit for IB courses. According to Kory, since the AP program is much more commonly used in Virginia, many schools did not initially understand what the IB entailed and, as a result, did not always give students credit for participating in that program.

In addition, the two programs were designed with different objectives in mind and call for different approaches to teaching and exams. AP focuses specifically on college placement and credit, whereas the IB program is meant to provide students with a more rigorous curriculum in high school.

“The intention of IB is not college credit,” Vu said. “The intention is college preparation…The credit is like a bonus.”

The IB program also offers courses on both a standard level and a higher level track, but many colleges only recognize higher level courses.

“Because it says standard-level by it, colleges aren’t giving those classes as much weight as the higher-level classes,” Vu said, noting that many standard-level IB courses are two years long but do not garner students the same credit they would get from a year-long AP course. “I’d love for that policy to change so that that’s more uniform across the board as well.”

Though, if passed, the proposed bill would likely not affect the admissions process that much, a standardized college crediting system would be more transparent and easier to understand for students. Kory says it could also save students and their families money by letting them know what classes they actually need to take in order to fulfill their degree requirements or by giving them college credits that they might not have gotten under a particular university’s current policy.

A College Board report titled “Are AP Students More Likely to Graduate on Time?” and published in January 2014 found that students who have taken at least one AP exam graduate college in four years or fewer at a rate of 58%, higher than the 38% graduation rate for those who have not taken any AP courses. Students who have taken AP classes are also less likely to attend universities and colleges that do not offer credit, according to the Education Week article “Colleges Vary on Credit for AP, IB, Duel Classes.”

HB 1136 was read before the House of Delegates for the first time on Jan. 29. While there is no specific day set for a vote yet, it would need to pass before Feb. 11, which is crossover day, when bills passed by the House are sent to the Senate and vice versa. The General Assembly adjourns at the end of February, so the bill would die if it is not passed this session, though it can be reintroduced at a later time.

If it passes, the bill’s provisions will become effective July 1, 2016, and Virginia would join a handful of other states in the country that have already implemented uniform policies for awarding college credits, including Arizona, Louisiana and North Dakota. A May 2014 analysis by the Education Commission of the States lists 17 states that currently have a uniform policy.

“It’s a step toward leveling the playing field and allowing students to get credit for the hard work they do in high school,” Kory said.

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