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Katy Roach

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In late February, legislation created by government teacher Andrew Conneen was introduced by Carol Sente in the Illinois General Assembly. Currently under debate in the House of Representatives, bill HB3428 aims to create a uniform system of granting credit for Advanced Placement (AP) exam scores across the state by requiring all public institutions to give college credit for exam scores of three or higher.

“We think it is common sense education reform,” Conneen said.

Currently, the Illinois higher education system lacks the uniformity this legislation hopes to achieve. For example, for the AP Psychology course, a score of five is required for credit at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign (UIUC), a four is required at the College of Lake County (CLC) and a three is required at Southern Illinois University (SIU).

Conneen first got the idea for this legislation after hearing about a similar bill passed in Indiana four years ago. He later learned that Indiana is one of 14 states with similar legislation. Other states on this list include many of Illinois’ neighboring states such as Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota along with other states like Kentucky and California.

“The benefits [of the bill] are that students who are going to school in Illinois have a clear message about what their top exam scores will get when they go to university,” Conneen said. “It’s a maze of confusion right now.”

According to Conneen, thousands of Illinois students are choosing colleges in states with AP equity policies, undermining a goal of state schools to retain Illinois talent. Evan Helchen ’15, a student lobbyist for the bill, also noted this trend.

“A lot of people are leaving the state for greener pastures because the school system has gotten so out of whack, at least at a higher level education,” Helchen said.

Another potential benefit of the bill is that it could make attending university a more affordable endeavor. Student lobbyist, Corey Weil ’15 described how the increase in credit students could receive with this bill could help to eliminate a freshman, and in some cases, even a sophomore year for some students. This could be the difference between $10,000 and $20,000 in tuition. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition in the 2014-2015 school year for state residents at public universities was $9,139.

For SHS students, this bill could have a large effect. According to the District 125 Board of Education, 90 percent of the 1,695 SHS students who took AP exams in 2014 earned a score of three or higher.

However, both Helchen and Weil see this bill as having a larger effect in low-income areas of Illinois, such as in the southern part of the state and in some urban neighborhoods. This appears to be the case based on the 2014 Illinois Board of Education report which announced that the percentage of low-income students in the statewide public education system has surpassed the percentage of middle-income students at 51.5 percent.

“This is a whole statewide issue. This is not just a Republican, Democrat or political issue,” Helchen said. “This is something that affects the people of Illinois directly.”

Since its introduction in the Illinois House of Representatives, Conneen and other advocates of the bill have concentrated on gaining both support and momentum. Of the 118 members in the Illinois House of Representatives, 52 have sponsored the bill so far.

Both Helchen and Weil got involved with the bill because they thought it was the right thing to do.

“I’m in a lot of AP classes,” Helchen said. “I see how hard people work. I think if someone gets something that is considered a passing score on these exams, I think they deserve to get credit at the very least for their efforts.”

Helchen and Weil hope to rally support from students across the state. Helchen began a petition on change.org for students to show their support for the bill. The petition has received 126 signatures.

“We need students from all over Illinois, not just the Northshore or Stevenson area,” Weil said. We need thousands of signatures.”

Although the bill is receiving considerable support, it also faces opposition, primarily from UIUC who worries that scores of three may not reflect an adequate understand of certain classes.

According to the College Board, an AP exam score of three is considered qualified, meaning that the student has proven him or herself “capable of doing the work of an introductory-level course in a particular subject at college;” however, many universities, including UIUC, continue to require students to earn a four or five on many exams in order to receive credit.

“We think that institutions and faculty experts that teach these courses and work with these subjects are the right people to look at what level of AP performance will signify that the student is ready to move on to the next course or whatever comes next in their institution,” said Charles Tucker, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Innovation at UIUC.

UIUC chooses how to award credit based on its experience with students who took the exam in the past and their subsequent performance in the next course at the university, Tucker said.

“If the score you receive does not mean you are ready to succeed in the next class and you start in that class and fail it, then that is a very bad thing,” Tucker said. “It is considerably worse than not getting credit at all because then you have to take the first course again and you have a bad grade on your record.”

Similar to UIUC, SIU also requires exam scores of four or five for credit for some courses. However, SIU has not yet taken a position on HB3428, said John Charles, Director for Government and Public Affairs at SIU. Despite this, SIU shares similar beliefs to UIUC.

“We need students to have a particular level of knowledge in key foundational courses before progressing on to the next level,” Charles said. “This is especially important for STEM classes.”

One aspect of the bill that Conneen discussed was the possibility of a university giving general education credit for a score of three if it felt the student did not meet the qualifications for major credit at the university. This would allow the university to exercise discretion in how it assigns major credit while still meeting the requirements of the legislation.

When asked about this, Tucker said that he did not know the proposal well enough to offer a good opinion on it.

As of now the bill has passed through the Elementary and Secondary Education: School Curriculum and Policies Committee and awaits a vote by the entire Illinois House of Representatives.

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