Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Advanced Placement versus dual credit in Catholic high schools

By DIANE STARKOVICH Ph.D, Superintendent of Schools | Published August 8, 2019

Diane Starkovich, Ph.D.
Photo By Michael Alexander

During the month of July, the U.S. College Board released its AP (Advanced Placement) Score Reports. Our Catholic high school administrators and teachers are busy reviewing these examination results as one measure of academic success. Occasionally, our school administrators are asked why we choose AP coursework over Dual Enrollment Programs. With the recent release of our students’ AP results, the beginning of a new school year provides the perfect opportunity to address this question within the context of our college preparatory high school curriculum.

Blessed Trinity High School, Our Lady of Mercy High School and St. Pius X High School follow a rigorous program of study that prepares their students for the demands of competitive colleges. As archdiocesan high schools, this course of study belongs to the K-12 curriculum written for and copyrighted by the Archdiocese of Atlanta Office of Catholic Schools. With the identification of two-thirds of our schools as Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education, we are proud of establishing high level learning objectives for all of our students.

AP versus Dual Enrollment

As a point of reference, AP courses and exams are standardized (courses meet national academic criteria and everyone takes an exam of equal rigor). AP coursework prepares students to pass an examination to provide their mastery of college-level curriculum. Dual enrollment courses do not follow standard curriculum expectations in most cases and are not viewed as rigorous by many elite colleges.

Students’ AP results range from scores of one to five on the national exam, with five being the highest possible score. A score of three is considered a passing score but many colleges require a minimum of a four to grant college credit. Our college counselors, therefore, work closely with our high school students to match them with an appropriate and best college placement.

Archdiocesan results

In May of 2019, 984 of our high school students sat for 2,115 AP exams. The passing rate (three or higher) for our students was 71.2% with scores of four or five being earned by 43.8% of these students. The earning of college credit through Advanced Placement courses assists our families in making college more affordable. While AP coursework is not appropriate for every student’s high school course of study, the success of its inclusion in our archdiocesan high schools allows a large percentage of our students to enter college with full credit for several required college courses. Upon entry to college, several of our students annually are classified as second-semester freshmen based upon the AP credits they earned in high school.

Dr. Sarah Cerniglia of the English Department at Blessed Trinity High School stated that research indicates that students who take AP courses have higher success rates in their college coursework, higher retention rates in college and are more likely to graduate on time, than peers who participate in dual-enrollment programs (college courses taken while in high school).

“AP courses provide students with the opportunity to engage with a meaningful, rigorous curriculum in an environment where scaffolding and supports are designed with student success in mind,” said Cerniglia, the school’s National English Honor Society Advisor. “AP courses and their corresponding exams are developed by a committee of secondary and postsecondary educators who represent a cross-section of America’s high schools and colleges, so AP courses are simultaneously rigorous and accessible while also remaining student-focused.”

Cerniglia said that rather than putting students directly into a college environment, as in a dual-enrollment scenario, AP courses allow students to develop the content-area knowledge and transferable skills necessary for success from educators who are attuned to adolescents’ educational needs.

Ongoing excellence

On May 19, we graduated 571 seniors in our archdiocesan high schools with a 100% graduation rate. These 571 students earned more than $67 million in academic scholarships (exclusive of the Georgia Hope) to attend college this fall. Combined with the success of AP coursework offered in our high schools, we are confident that we are preparing these graduates for college, career and heaven—the ultimate goal for our students. Readers are invited to learn more about our archdiocesan Catholic schools by visiting the schools’ tab of the archdiocesan website at