The difference between a 4 and a 5

If you’ve recently requested that Dowling Hall send your official transcript to a possible employer, or if you’re considering the classes you might take to fulfill the distribution requirements here at Tufts, you’ve noted that Advanced Placement (AP) credits make a difference. Details surrounding the process of receiving those credits have recently been the subject of a debate in higher education.

At most universities, AP credits can place you out of an introductory level course or get you out of a distribution requirement. At Tufts, a 4 or a 5 on a language AP may even help satisfy part II of the Foreign Language/Culture option.

It’s a practice that has come under fire recently, highlighted by Harvard’s announcement last week that it would cease accepting 4’s for course credit – leaving a 5 as the only possibility for credit. Critics say the extensive advertising of Advanced Placement exams coerces ill-prepared students to take the examinations.

Jeremy Knowles, Harvard’s dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, told the Yale Daily News that Harvard found “evidence 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.”

According to Dean Richard Brodhead at Yale, his school had been conducting a study of its own for several years, but does not plan to change its policy in response to Harvard’s announcement. At Yale as at Tufts, departments currently have different standards for awarding acceleration credit or placement.

“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 to the Daily News.

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. Other area schools, such as Boston College, Williams, Smith, and Brandeis all accept 4’s for credit towards their distribution requirements. Amherst does not accept AP credit.

Since AP scores do not always correlate with how well high school students will perform in related college courses, the current Tufts policy supports Brodhead’s belief that requiring a 5 for all placements is too general a policy.

Like most selective universities, Tufts gives placement or eligibility for a higher-level course, an acceleration credit, and/or the fulfillment of a University requirement to those students that earn 4’s, 5’s, and occasionally 3’s on AP exams. Students generally feel the University’s system for AP credit is satisfactory.

Most students, such as freshman Molly Ritvo, disagree with the movement towards accepting only higher scores. She got a 4 on the US History exam and was given course credit for it.

“What’s wrong with a four? A four is fine,” Ritvo said. “On an AP exam, very few multiple choice questions determine the difference between a 4 and a 5. Not only did I study a lot for the [US History] exam, but taking the test itself was expensive, and a 4 is definitely worthy of credit.”

Junior Seif Shieshakly suggested, however, that adopting the policy just implemented by Harvard could be useful. “It would be an incentive for students to work harder, so why not?” he asked asked. “If Tufts were only to take 5’s, it would drive students to work harder, and perhaps it would also show that the university is not happy accepting [lower score] high school APs.”

But with students often criticizing the distribution requirements at Tufts as overly stringent, many see AP credit as a relief.

“I’m really glad that the University accepts a wide range of APs,” sophomore Elizabeth Candee said. “I had a lot of credits that got me out of a bunch of distribution requirements, which was great, because now I have more time to take the classes I’m truly interested in.”

The University’s crediting policy varies depending on the score and the AP particular exam taken. Jean Herbert, an associate dean, says that at Tufts, what scores will count for credit is and will remain “strictly a departmental decision.” Herbert says that departments constantly conduct reviews of their AP policies – the Mathematics department is conducting a review this semester – but that the University will not institute a blanked credit requirement such as that recently installed at Harvard.

David Cuttino, Tufts’ dean of admissions, said that different departments are giving AP credit options ongoing attention.

“Part of the Tufts selection process considers the challenges that students are able and willing to take and evaluating the students’ academic record in that light,” Cuttino said. “We understand that we are dealing with applicants of different backgrounds and opportunities, and in the admissions process we use the student’s program to try to see what choices they made. Clearly AP exams are a factor, but not the deciding factor.”

Herbert said AP credit is useful in preventing students from spending time in a class whose subject matter they are already sufficiently versed in. “To me, it’s always been an advantage for students to avoid repeating information that they already know,” Herbert said. “Our policy allows students to challenge themselves with more difficult courses.”

The majority of Tufts undergraduates support that view of AP credit. Freshman Jeff Martin said it’s in students’ interests that departments decide which AP scores suffice for particular classes. “The department knows best as to what is covered in their courses and how well an AP score indicates a student’s capacity for the subject,” Martin said.

“AP test scores are generally good indicators of how well you understand certain subjects, but each test is different,” freshman Dave Turkington said. “Some tend to be harder than others or test different aspects of the material, so there shouldn’t be just one rule that applies to all of the tests.”

Official Advanced Placement scores are described as follows: “1- no recommendation, 2- possibly qualified, 3- qualified, 4- well-qualified, and 5-extremely well-qualified.” But as with most standardized tests, students say that scores are not always indicative of performance abilities.

Junior Justin Morong said AP credits fulfilled some of his requirements, but that he was also placed in classes below his level. “Perhaps there’s another way,” he said. “If an individual is intelligent or fortunate enough to matriculate at Harvard, Tufts, it seems that they should be able to enter whatever class they choose, at whatever level. If they can’t deal, they can’t deal.”