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Dual Credit and Exam-Based Courses in U.S. Public High Schools: 2002-03
NCES: 2005009
April 2005


Dual credit, whereby high school students can earn both high school and postsecondary credits for the same course, is an area in which interest has grown rapidly over the past decade (Bailey and Karp 2003; Clark 2001; Education Commission of the States 2004). However, there has been no existing national source of information on dual credit courses at the high school level. This survey was requested by the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education, to provide baseline information regarding the prevalence and characteristics of dual credit courses. This survey also collected information on two types of exam-based courses, Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB). These types of courses provide high school students with another way of bridging K-12 and postsecondary education.

Respondents for this survey were those selected by the school principal as the most knowledgeable about the school's dual credit, AP, and IB courses. This was typically the school's director of guidance counseling. Respondents were provided with a definition and description of dual credit and exam-based courses. For this study, dual credit was defined as a course or program where high school students can earn both high school and postsecondary credits for the same course. Dual credit courses could be located on a high school campus or the campus of a postsecondary institution, or taught through distance education. These courses might include courses with an academic focus, such as English, history, or foreign language, or those with a career and technical/vocational focus, such as computer maintenance technology and automotive technology. Additionally, the dual credit options must be either legislated by the state or have an articulated or other formal written agreement between the high school and the postsecondary institution.

AP courses were defined as courses that follow the content and curricular goals as described in the AP Course Description booklets, developed and published by the College Board. A qualifying score on an AP exam may give the student college credit or advanced standing in a college in the subject area in which the course/exam was taken. IB courses were defined as courses that compose a 2-year liberal arts curriculum that leads to a diploma and meets the requirements established by the International Baccalaureate program. Students taking these courses are in grades 11 and 12 and must meet all requirements and pass examinations in each subject area in order to receive the IB diploma. In some schools, students who are not seeking the IB diploma are allowed to take individual IB courses. AP and IB credit is only given at the discretion of the colleges and therefore occurs after students have applied and been accepted to a college, whereas dual credit courses are actual college courses and the credit is usually recorded on a college transcript from the postsecondary institution.

The survey asked respondents to report on the prevalence and enrollment of dual credit and exam-based courses in their high schools. Additional information was obtained on dual credit courses, including the location and educational focus of these courses, dual credit course characteristics, and school requirements surrounding dual credit courses. The time frame for this survey is the 200203 12-month school year. As specified on the front of the questionnaire, this includes courses during the summer of 2002 or the summer of 2003, depending upon how the schools kept their records. This survey was conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) using the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS). FRSS is designed to administer short, focused, issue-oriented surveys that place minimal burden on respondents and have a quick turnaround from data collection to reporting. Questionnaires for the survey "Dual Credit and Exam-Based Courses" were mailed in fall 2003 to a representative sample of 1,499 regular public secondary schools in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The sample was selected from the 200102 NCES Common Core of Data (CCD) Public School Universe file, which was the most current file available at the time of selection. The sampling frame includes 17,059 regular secondary schools. The estimated number of schools in the survey universe decreased to an estimated 16,483 because some of the schools were determined to be ineligible for the FRSS survey during data collection. Data have been weighted to yield national estimates. The unweighted and weighted response rates were both 92 percent. Detailed information about the survey methodology is provided in appendix A, and the questionnaire can be found in appendix B.

The primary purpose of this report is to present national estimates. In addition, selected survey findings are presented by the following school characteristics, which are defined in more detail in appendix A:

  • school enrollment size1 (enrollment of less than 500, 500 to 1,199, 1,200 or more);
  • locale (city, urban fringe, town, rural);
  • region (Northeast, Southeast, Central, West); and
  • percent minority enrollment (less than 6 percent, 6 to 20 percent, 21 to 49 percent, 50 percent or more).

In general, comparisons by these school characteristics are presented only where significant differences were detected and follow meaningful patterns. It is important to note that many of the school characteristics used for independent analysis may also be related to each other. For example, school enrollment size and locale are related, with city schools typically being larger than rural schools. Other relationships between these analysis variables may exist. However, this E.D. TAB report focuses on the bivariate relationships between the school characteristics and the data gathered in the survey, rather than more complex analyses, to provide descriptive information about dual credit and exam-based courses.2

All specific statements of comparison made in this report have been tested for statistical significance through trend analysis tests and t-tests and are significant at the 95 percent confidence level. However, only selected findings are presented for each topic in the report. Throughout this report, differences that may appear large (particularly those by school characteristics) may not be statistically significant. This may be due to the relatively large standard errors surrounding the estimates. A detailed description of the statistical tests supporting the survey findings can be found in appendix A.

1 Throughout this report, school enrollment size will be referred to as small, medium, or large schools.

2 E.D. TAB reports are designed to focus on the presentation of selected descriptive data in tabular format.