AP to AT

Advanced Placement courses are being phased out at high-scoring Scarsdale High and replaced by Advanced Topics classes. AP is the “gold standard” for quality, says the principal, but AT is “platinum.”

A  year after Scarsdale became the most prominent school district in the nation to phase out the College Board’s Advanced Placement courses — and make A.P. exams optional — most students and teachers here praise the change for replacing mountains of memorization with more sophisticated and creative curriculums.

Fewer students take A.P. exams: For those who do, scores rose in five Advanced Topics courses but dropping in U.S. history and U.S. government.

College Board says AT is just AP in sheep’s clothing. If Scarsdale High wants to add essays by Francis Bacon and Virginia Woolf or a week on modern art to its literature classes, that’s no skin off AP’s nose. If the classes are good, students will be able to pass the AP exam.

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Comments

  1. I think this misses the point:

    “f Scarsdale High wants to add essays by Francis Bacon and Virginia Woolf or a week on modern art to its literature classes, that’s no skin off AP’s nose. If the classes are good, students will be able to pass the AP exam.”

    The schools I’ve heard phasing out AP classes often do so because the AP syllabus is so specific and extensive it doesn’t really give time for other things (and/or focuses on memorization at the expense of other skills). A course could be at least as rigorous as the AP but not prepare students for the test due to a difference in focus (for instance, a high school around here offers a Latin course on Lucretius often a *grad school* level author (!) — and that course would improve your Latin all over the place, but not prepare you for an AP test on Vergil).

  2. Miller T. Smith says:

    I’ll bet they have seen a fall in scores and think that they will continue to see the fall continue. So what do they do? Move the goalpost!

    My school system claims that it will have 100% of all students (yes, ALL) taking an AP class in each discipline by the next three years. See how long that lasts.

  3. GoogleMaster says:

    Has the AP program changed drastically in the past 25 years? I don’t recall my AP classes having much memorization content at all.

    I graduated in 1982, and took AP exams in the following classes:

    * Latin (Horace/Catullus): This was after two years of grammar and two years of reading poetry in the original Latin and explicating the poetry as you would in an English class. The AP exam consisted of analysis and critical writing. Memorization content: vocabulary, grammar, and poetry meters, some of which I still remember today, thanks to my teacher banging them out on a desk with an easel leg.

    * English: This was after grammar (Warriner’s) and critical reading/writing in 9th and 10th grade, American Lit (using the 2 volume Norton’s anthology) in 11th grade, and Brit Lit (another 2 volume Norton’s) in 12th grade. We wrote numerous five-page papers in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, plus a 15-page term paper in 11th and 12th. The AP exam consisted of analysis and critical writing. Memorization content: nil.

    * Chemistry: Regular Chemistry in 10th grade, AP Chem in 11th. Both classes used the same Academic Press text by Moeller. The AP class was taught by a man with a Ph.D. in chemistry. The AP exam consisted of problem solving. Memorization content: none, unless you count vocabulary and knowledge that a working chemist/chemical engineer is expected to have internalized, such as what is a mole, how to read the periodic table, and how to balance equations.

    * Calculus AB: My school didn’t offer BC, but we had covered differentiation/integration to the extent that you would in a baby college calc class, using Thomas’s Elements of Calculus, which seems to be a distillation of a larger calculus text. The AP exam consisted of problem solving. My score was enough for credit in Calc I, but I went ahead and took honors Calc I anyway, which went into the theories and was more proof-based. Memorization content: differentiation/integration rules, how to solve problems.

    I also started out in the AP History program, but washed out and dropped back down to regular history after the first trimester. I believe that we used the American Pageant books, and I know there was NO memorization in this class, either. More critical reading and LOTS of paper-writing. Even in the regular history track, we had a 15-page term paper each year starting in 11th grade.

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    Some tests are more preparation-specific than others. A student will do well on AP Calculus by learning calculus; a student will do well on the econ exams by learning the standard material covered in most basic economics texts. Likewise, the foreign language exams test knowledge of the language, however gained.

    But to do well on AP US History, a student has to do mountains of memorization and practice with the actual test format. There are very few 18-year-olds who could walk in cold, armed with nothing but a good solid knowledge of American History, and pass AP US History.

    The two AP English tests reward a specific style of writing, one produced quickly. It’s not a waste of time to learn to write quickly and to produce essays that are superficially satisfactory, but neither is it the only way to study English. An essay produced in half an hour is not the best format to judge a writer.

  5. Mom in Georgia says:

    AT appears to be a smokescreen for accountability. Typical educratic agenda: criticize the traditional track that results in accountability, while promoting the un-proven ‘sophisticated’ and ‘creative’ path.

    I know nothing about Scarsdale, but have plenty of experience with rural Georgia schools, where awards and titles are everything, yet the national scores continue to decline. They recently stopped administering the only national test for k-8, the ITBS, so that no one notices the decline. They are silent about the low SAT’s. They are proud that they offer AP, but do not expect anyone to pass the actual exam. Just tout that it is offered. My daughter is in an AP class where the teacher has discussed the topic from the book a total of 3 class periods – and it is almost Christmas break! She has learned alot about his family life. Will that be on the AP? She knows this is going to be fully self-study, if she plans to pass.

    For the reasons listed in the above article: “A more sophisticated and creative curriculum” replacing “mountains of memorization.” Doesn’t this sound like “drill and kill” accusations of traditional (and proven!) math? I don’t trust the educrats, plain and simple.

    I think “AT” simply gives the teachers and educrats an ‘out’ for the low scores that might result from actual AP exams.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    “I know nothing about Scarsdale, but have plenty of experience with rural Georgia schools”

    Scarsdale, NY, a tony New York City suburb with an estimated median household income of $222,000, is nothing like a rural Georgia school district. In wealthy school districts like Scarsdale, there is plenty of accountability. If test scores start dropping, the parents are all over the school.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    I wonder if this is just a verion of branding. When 1000’s of high school kids taking AP/Ib exams, why not create something that will look different to a college admissions committee. With the added benefit is that it cannot be compared to other schools. the private schools have been masters of this for years and the upper tier public schools appear to want to get into the act.

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    “My school system claims that it will have 100% of all students (yes, ALL) taking an AP class in each discipline by the next three years. See how long that lasts.”

    I hope it lasts less than two minutes, because it’s truly stupid. Summit Prep, the Northern California charter discussed in a recent post, initially had the idea that all students would be taking AP Calculus as seniors. That was back when it took its first class, all freshmen. By the time those freshmen were seniors, the requirement had slammed into the wall of reality and shattered.

  9. Has the AP program changed drastically in the past 25 years? I don’t recall my AP classes having much memorization content at all.

    No, just the meaning of the word memorization. Now that the self-esteem crowd has full control of education, “memorization” means any hard knowledge that students can be effectively tested on, as opposed to their fuzzy ideas of critical and creative thinking. Which, to them, means all of AP is memorization.

  10. Lightly Seasoned says:

    There’s no memorization in the English tests. The example about suddenly being able to act out a scene in Hamlet as something you couldn’t do because you are doing “400 years of English literature” is absurd. First of all, there’s absolutely nothing cutting edge about acting out a scene in a play. Secondly, you can teach any lit your heart desires as long as it is of good quality, and, in fact, many AP Lit teachers have great success with all kinds of reading selections. I certainly don’t do a survey course and my median score is usually over 4.

    AP is on the rise as a way to introduce rigor in low performing schools. The cynic in me says they feel a need to differentiate themselves from the ghetto kids. MY kid did *AT* — not that AP class just anyone can take.

    Lastly, their scores are rising because fewer kids are taking the test. Instead of all students sitting for the exam, the cohort is self-selecting.

  11. Cardinal Fang:

    Regarding AP US History, I had a truly awful teacher (she spent the whole year ranting about how Patton was assassinated, FDR knew about Pearl Harbor, and misdating every major battle of the Revolutionary War) so I ended up taking the AP History exam cold, with no exam practice and only the accumulated history I picked up over the years from textbooks. I got a 5, so it’s definitely doable.

    On the other hand, that might mean that AP is slacking off, in which case getting a 5 means nothing. 🙁

  12. tim-10-ber says:

    My son is taking his first AP class — US History using the latest edition of the Pageant textbook. The teacher has said he has to study 7 days a week. What is interesting is the book has no vocabulary in it — the vocab is buried in the text. So…to do really well in the class not only do you have to read critically but we downloaded for $5 or $6 the Pageant syllabus which has the vocab. It makes a huge difference on the multiple choice part of the test.

    This will probably be the only AP core curriculum class my son will take. However, because of having to read critically and write concisely with full detail, I believe this class is helping him become a better writer. We will see…

    I like the AP US History class for the fact they cover more history than they do in the regular US History class. The writing component at my son’s school is the same for both history classes as the AP teacher also teachs the regular history class…

    Whatever he makes on the test I believe this is a good college prep class for my son —

    Now to see if he will take AP art —