The state of Illinois is currently considering a bill to mandate that all public institutions accept a score of 3 on every Advanced Placement exam. Bill here. The lobbyists in favor of the bill claim that similar things have been enacted in Ohio and Florida.

I'm interested to hear stories of how math educators have been affected by state-mandated placement policies. I don't need specifically USA answers here, although I am personally most interested in the College Board's Advanced Placement exams.

I am not interested in having a debate over whether the bill is a good idea; I don't think this site is a good forum for political disagreement. But I do think it would be possible to share experiences here.

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    $\begingroup$ If I had to guess, more kids failing calculus 2. A 3 on the AP exam says only they are 'okay' at exams. $\endgroup$
    – Chris C
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @ChrisC, I received a 5 on my AP Calc BC exam and still decided to "retake" Calc II at university because I didn't feel comfortable jumping right into Calc III my first semester, which i definitely recommend. This worked out well for me but I know most of my classmates who passed the AP Calc test jumped right into the highest college Calc class they could and almost all of them had to end up retaking that class the next semester either because they failed or they got too low of a grade to count it as a pre-req $\endgroup$
    – celeriko
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ I remember that in college there were different levels of calculus that you could take depending on your score on the AP exam. Perhaps the college could have a calculus 1.5 for those students who got a 3 on their calculus AP. $\endgroup$
    – Amy B
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ In general, I'm against "state mandated" criteria, each institution is different (both the school and the college). I'd prefer the college (offered) a placement exam, to suggest the right class. $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose one might create a course equivalent to a score of 3 on the AP test and award credit for that. The important thing, I also suppose, from the legislators point of view, is that the student gets credits that may be applied toward graduation and reduce the tuition the student needs to pay. $\endgroup$
    – user1815
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 1:41

2 Answers 2


In 2007, Ohio passed Revised Code 8333.163, which required the Ohio higher education system to grant students award credit for passing advanced placement (AP) exams. In 2008, the Ohio university system issued Directive 2008-010, implementing the law. The directive specified that a score of 3 or higher would give students college credit, but that students might be advised to to retake courses if e.g. they got a 3 in AP Calculus and intended to major in math.

Here are the current (April 2014) recommendations for students at Ohio's public institutions. They recommend that students getting a score of 3 on AP Calc AB or higher receive credit for Calc 1; a score of 3 or higher on AP Calc BC receive credit for Calc 1 and 2.

I have been unable to find data on success rates in subsequent classes for students awarded AP credit (e.g. How do students passing AP Calc AB do in university Calc 2?). This appears to be a presentation from the College Board to the Ohio Board of Regents--coming as it does from the College Board (who run the AP tests), it has nothing but good things to say about AP students, but the data seems cherry-picked. Sure, AP students outperform other students, but typically high schools put their best students in AP classes. How do AP students earning credit in high school compare to students earning those same credits at university?


This story is not technically a state-mandated policy, but the CUNY system of colleges in New York is centrally managed and closely tied to city and state government (most of the Board of Trustees is appointed by either the mayor or governor, with one seat each set aside for faculty & student representation).

In the past few years, more of the basic curriculum decisions have been removed from faculty and mandated by central administration. For example, one initiative called Pathways was put in place over faculty objections to set maximum credit hours for all programs and core classes, and also mandate acceptance of all of these credits in transfers from junior to senior colleges. To meet this requirement, programs have been forced to cut science lab courses, foreign language requirements, etc. In mid-2013 the CUNY-wide faculty held a vote on the issue, with 92% voting "no confidence" in Pathways.

In the particular area of math requirements, CUNY is open-admissions and required to accept all students from the New York system with a high school diploma or equivalent. A majority cannot pass basic entry skills tests in reading, writing, algebra, or arithmetic. These students thus enter remedial classes for these skills, the success rate is very low, and therefore the graduation rate is very low (around 20% over 6 years, in line with other community colleges around the nation). Many faculty will assert that most students are effectively unable to read college-level texts.

So this causes political pressure on the trustees to raise graduation rates, which is seen as a failure on the part of the institution and faculty. A great deal of "churn" has occurred in the last few years with changes to math remediation; the entry tests have changed, the acceptance scores have been modified up and down, the exit exam to remediation has been changed by central fiat several times, etc.; in each case hoping that a majority of students would begin passing, but success rates stay intransigently the same.

So in my experience the more the political elements begin mandating certain acceptance criteria, the likelihood is great that they will inspect and complain about why the next level then has low success rates (in the aftermath of lowered entry standards). This pressure rolls in the direction of mandating higher passing rates, which is ultimately accomplished by lowering standards for that next level, and so on. For example, the newest CUNY community college (Guttman) has no faculty governance, no disciplinary departments, no remediation courses, and no basic skills requirements for graduation -- and it is likely that meetings are currently being held to expand on that model and remove basic writing and algebra/arithmetic requirements throughout the system, which would hopefully raise the desired graduation rates.

In short: The more the political class tightens its grip on acceptance and graduation criteria, the more academic systems will slip through its fingers.


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