What is it about?

High school students who take AP math and/or science courses have higher interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. In this study, my coauthors and I wanted to know whether these differences could be attributed to a positive effect of AP or to pre-existing differences. We controlled for variables to determine whether AP students' higher and found that most or all of the differences in STEM interest could be attributed to pre-AP differences in interest. Thus, AP math courses probably do not cause students to become more interested in STEM.

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Why is it important?

Some people think that the way to increase student engagement and interest in STEM fields is through offering advanced courses, like AP classes. However, our research shows that most or all of students' interest in STEM can be traced to their pre-existing interest. Therefore, offering AP courses is likely not an effective way to make students more interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.


AP is hugely popular, but most of the research on the program's benefits consists of methodologically weak studies. These tend to show strong benefits for AP. However, once researchers control for intervening variables, the benefits of AP tend to be greatly reduced. This study matches that trend and shows that if AP math courses raise STEM interest at all, the effect is weak. This doesn't mean that AP is a bad program. There are good reasons to offer AP mathematics courses. Exposing well prepared children to an advanced curriculum is good, and the challenge can encourage bright students to develop study skills. But policy makers and educational personnel need to be realistic about what AP can and can't do.

Dr Russell T. Warne
Independent Scholar

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The Relationship Between Advanced Placement Mathematics Courses and Students’ STEM Career Interest, Educational Researcher, March 2019, American Educational Research Association (AERA), DOI: 10.3102/0013189x19825811.
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