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By W. Gardner Selby August 3, 2018

Greg Abbott quickly fulfilled vow to tie college credits to above-average AP exam scores

In his first run for governor, Greg Abbott urged a change in law requiring Texas public colleges and universities to give course credit to students who get above-average scores on Advanced Placement exams.

In his October 2013 compendium of campaign vows, Abbott called for lawmakers to adopt a statewide AP credit-by-exam policy requiring public colleges and universities to award course credit to students achieving scores of 3 or higher on AP exams.

The exams, which originated in the 1950s, are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. According to the the College Board, the nonprofit group that steers the exams, a score of 3 indicates the student is qualified to receive college credit in the subject; a 4 signals they're "well qualified" and a 5 means "extremely well qualified." A score of 2, the group says, means the student is "possibly qualified" for college credit while a 1 is defined as "no recommendation."

In 2013, Abbott offered reduced college costs as an appealing rationale for requiring colleges to award AP credit for exam scores of 3 or better. Abbott elaborated that if the 190,042 Texas students scoring 3 or better on AP exams in 2013 had been awarded college credits, their families might have saved $160 million in college tuition.

At the time, Texas public colleges and universities were already required to have policies setting a threshold AP exam score that would result in college credit--with the required AP score left up to each institution.

Abbott wrote in his pitch for changing the law that "most, if not all, institutions of higher education in Texas award credit for AP courses and exams. However, there is a great deal of variance from school to school in credit awarded and what the minimum required score for credit is." For instance, Abbott said, Texas State University offered three hours of credit for a score of 3 on the AP English and Composition exam; the University of Texas at Austin required a score of 4.

Legislative records show that Abbott shortly got his wish. On June 3, 2015, after the 2015 regular session and about six months after Abbott won election, he signed into law a measure requiring public colleges and universities to give credit for AP exam scores of 3, though the revision left campus officials wiggle room.

The final version of House Bill 1992, authored by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, says an "institution of higher education may not require a score of more than three" on an AP exam "unless the institution's chief academic officer determines, based on evidence, that a higher score on the examination is necessary to indicate a student is sufficiently prepared to be successful in a related, more advanced course for which the lower-division course is a prerequisite."

The change in law also requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to deliver a study comparing the performance of students earning college credits by exam versus students earning credits by taking college classes.

In July 2018, we asked a board administrator about the law's effect. By phone, Rex Peebles said the comparative study mandated by the law would be finalized in October 2018 but that it looked as if most public colleges and universities were lately requiring an AP exam score of 3 to earn course credits.

Under the law, Peebles advised, institutions could alternatively choose not to accept AP exam results at all for course credit. "As far as I know, no one has made that decision," Peebles said.

We also explored the change in law with Dustin Meador of the Texas Association of Community Colleges. By phone, Meador called the 2015 action a "clear-cut win for the governor."

We rate this previously unrated Abbott vow a PROMISE KEPT.

Promise Kept — The original promise is mostly or completely fulfilled.

Our Sources

Publication, "Greg Abbott's Educating Texans Plan: Higher Education," Greg Abbott campaign, October 2013

Web pages, "About AP Scores," "About Us," the College Board, undated (accessed July 30, 2018)

Legislation, House Bill 1992, "History," "Actions," text of enrolled version, 2015 regular legislative session,  Texas Legislature Online (accessed July 30, 2018)Phone interview, Dustin Meador, director of government relations, Texas Association of Community Colleges, July 13, 2018

Phone interview, Rex Peebles, assistant commissioner of academic quality and workforce, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, July 17, 2018

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