A recent cluster randomized controlled trial by Saavedra and colleagues evaluated the effect of a project-based learning approach to teaching advanced placement (AP) courses on AP exam scores. More schools are now offering advanced placement courses. Still, racial and socioeconomic gaps in attaining qualifying AP scores persist. Depending on the postsecondary institution, a qualifying AP score can help students earn college credits. The authors note that project-based learning may be a more relevant and applicable approach for all students to learn complex content, perform well on AP exams, and pursue and persist in postsecondary education.
The intervention provided teachers with professional development and curricular materials to teach their respective AP course with a focus on project-based learning. Professional development consisted of a four-day summer institute, four full-day coaching sessions during the academic year, online coaching, and access to a curriculum portal. This specific study focused on project-based learning in AP United States Government and AP Environmental Sciences courses and their respective AP exams.
Schools were randomly selected from five mostly urban school districts. Across 68 schools, 35 teachers were assigned to the treatment group, and 39 teachers were assigned to the control group, where AP instruction would be primarily lecture-based (business-as-usual). Thus, a total sample of 3,645 students participated in the study. Although most (89%) teachers assigned to the treatment condition complied, researchers conducted an intent-to-treat analysis because of the complexity of monitoring professional development engagement and participation. The study found that:
- Students of teachers in the intervention group outperformed students in the control group in obtaining a qualifying AP score (ES = +0.26).
- Treatment students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds outperformed their control group peers in attaining a qualifying AP score (ES = +0.39).
Findings suggest AP teachers who have access to project-based learning materials, professional development, and coaching may positively affect their students’ academic and long-term postsecondary outcomes, especially for students historically marginalized from such opportunities.
Source: Saavedra, A. R., Lock Morgan, K., Liu, Y., Garland, M. W., Rapaport, A., Hu, A., Hoepfner, D., & Haderlein, S. K. (2022). The Impact of project-based learning on ap exam performance. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 01623737221084355. https://doi.org/10.3102/01623737221084355