An Analysis of the Performance and Subject Interest of 9th Grade Students Taking the Advanced Placement Course in Human Geography
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The Advanced Placement (AP) Program was created to provide gifted high school students a transition between the last two years of high school and the first two years of college. AP courses are college level courses that are taught in high school settings by high school teachers at a reduced cost to students. Students who pass AP exams in high school are given college credits for those courses prior to enrolling in college. The AP Human Geography (APHG) course was implemented with the intent of raising the status of geography in the United States and to be used as a tool for recruiting high school students for geography majors in college and career paths in geography. Since the implementation of APHG in 2001, the enrollment of the course has experienced dramatic growth which exceeded the growth of enrollment in virtually all other AP courses. The cause of this growth was due to the encouragement of the placement of the APHG course in the 9th grade in high school social studies curriculums. This placement also resulted in a higher percentage of students from the 9th grade taking the course each year since 2001. The APHG exam scores have been going down since participation by 9th graders surpassed 40%. The placement of the APHG course in the 9th grade has created a significant problem for the discipline of geography: the increase in the participation of the course is accompanied by the increase in the percentage of students failing the APHG exam. The purpose of this study is to examine the impacts of increased participation by 9th grade students in the APHG course on APHG teaching, APHG learning, and the recruitment for the discipline of geography. In the first part of the study, APHG exam scores were collected from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and aggregated by grade level to determine whether the scores of 9th grade students were significantly different from those of students in 10-12th grades. Teacher focus groups, administrators’ interviews, and students’ interviews were conducted to explore the challenges in teaching and learning the APHG course in the 9th grade. In the second part of the study, an on-line survey was conducted to students enrolled at Texas State University. The survey results were used to examine the impact of students taking the APHG course at different grade levels in high school on their choice of major/minor, interest level in geography and taking geography courses, and likelihood of pursuing a career in geography. Follow-up interviews were conducted to survey participants to explain the survey results. The results of the study demonstrated that 9th grade students scored lower on the APHG exam than students in other grades. The reasons behind the low scores of 9th grade students on the APHG exam cited were lack of writing skills, lack of knowledge of the world, lack of maturity, large vocabulary in the course, and lack of study skills. The on-line survey demonstrated that students who took the APHG course in the 9th grade were less likely to major/minor in geography, had a lower level of interest in geography and taking geography courses, and were less likely to pursue a career in geography than students who took the APHG course in 10-12th grades. The results of this study provide valuable information on the appropriate grade level to place the APHG course in the high school curriculum for students, teachers, parents, high school counselors and administrators, university geography instructors, geography organizations such as the National Council on Geographic Education (NCGE), and geography departments.