For three years, high-school seniors who completed a full range of advanced placement (AP) courses and scored well on the corresponding examinations were eligible to receive the AP diploma from the College Board.
Last year, 201 Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) seniors earned the diploma, which is actually a certificate of achievement. Nine county high schools — Chantilly, Hayfield Secondary, Herndon, Lake Braddock Secondary, Langley, Madison, McLean, West Springfield and West Potomac — took part in the pilot, and overall, a total of 477 AP diplomas were earned by county students. Centreville, Fairfax, Falls Church, Oakton, Westfield, and Woodson high schools are also AP schools but did not take part in the pilot.
But the Class of 2003 will be the last to receive the award. The College Board's Board of Trustees has decided not to continue the pilot, and after the summer of 2003 will no longer issue the certificates. The decision to do away with the pilot will not affect the individual AP courses offered by the school system. In addition, the College Board is working to develop a suitable replacement for the diploma program.
"It's primarily just a name issue. The College Board's trustees did not feel it was appropriate to be issuing something called a ‘diploma,’" said Trevor Packer, director of AP operations for the College Board.
IN VIRGINIA, all graduating high-school seniors receive the same diploma, which is issued by the state. However, in the case of the more academically challenging AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, students were eligible to receive a certificate of achievement once they fulfilled each program's requirements.
To earn an AP diploma, students must score three or higher, with five the highest, on exams for five full-credit AP courses in languages, including English; sciences; mathematics; history; and social sciences and an elective. AP courses are recognized for college credit by several colleges and universities in the United States.
IB requires both internal and external assessments for each of the six core subject areas: English; foreign language through a fifth year; mathematics through calculus; history and social sciences; experimental sciences including biology, chemistry and physics; and the arts and electives. Diploma candidates must take the Theory of Knowledge course, write a 4,000-word extended research essay and participate in a community service program. There are eight IB schools in the county.
The school system was informed toward the end of last year that the College Board would be eliminating the AP diploma.
"It's a disappointment," said Glynn Bates, principal at Hayfield Secondary. "It was a way of recognizing our outstanding scholars. We would list the AP candidates in our graduation program, and when we received confirmation of the names of those who qualified to receive the diploma, we'd print them in our fall newsletter."
FAIRFAX COUNTY will continue to issue the certificates once the College Board stops, said Bernadette Glaze, the school system's advanced academic programs specialist.
"FCPS will issue the AP certificates beginning with the 2003-04 school year, most likely using the College Board's guidelines," Glaze said. "We have well-established AP programs, and the certificate will be comparable to what the College Board did."
Packer said the advanced placement moniker is a trademark of the College Board, so the independent body has created a task force, of which Glaze is a member, to come up with a suitable replacement for the soon-to-be-defunct diploma. He said a couple of options include allowing individual school systems to issue their own certificates, if they meet standards set by the College Board, or the College Board can continue to administer the awards, whatever they may be.
"We would like the schools to work with us in developing a program to allow schools to demonstrate their excellence," Packer said. "Schools that qualify for the awards will be able to hand out awards to their students. We'll be providing guidelines to the schools."
Everyone seems to agree the goal of the program is to encourage the students to take courses outside of their interests and to challenge themselves academically. In fact, the AP diploma did little if anything in getting a student accepted into college.
"The problem with recognition programs is they don't seem to impact admissions to colleges and universities," Packer said. "Our studies show, colleges look at the number of courses and the tests taken, but not for admission. No one can identify why the program is important for college admission."
Part of the reason is that candidates do not find out whether they qualified to receive the diploma until after graduation, and presumably after having already been accepted to a college or university.
"What's on their transcripts matters the most," Bates said.