The AP juggernaut

Advanced Placement enrollment is surging. The New York Time’ Room for Debate blog asks its panel:

Does the growth in Advanced Placement courses serve students or schools well? Are there downsides to pushing many more students into taking these rigorous courses?

In a recent survey, a majority of AP teachers said “too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads.” Some 60 percent said that “parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don’t belong there.”

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  1. Mom in Georgia says:

    We are in rural Georgia. Our system offers several AP courses beginning in 9th grade. We are a high poverty school and don’t really have the teachers qualified to teach AP. HOWEVER – self-motivated kids like my daughter, are able to buy the study guides at Barnes and Noble and teach themselves – which has resulted in my daughter scoring 2 fives and 1 three – she is now in 11th grade and is taking four AP classes – and will be very, very disappointed if she does not pass them all (3 or better). It has been a TREMENDOUS opportunity for her – since we lack the qualified teachers in this rural county. She has a few friends who are self-motivated, like herself, -but the majority of her AP classmates do not pass the national AP exam.

  2. Don Bemont says:

    I teach in rural New York. We offer a few AP courses. Given that the district considers grouping of students a total non-starter, and given that there is pressure from above to run all the other courses in a manner that even students who attend little and try less can pass, AP is just about the only way for a student to get an education anything close to equivalent to what I received in high school.

    Is AP perfect? Certainly not. Do some students choose unwisely when they elect to take AP courses? Probably. However, I daresay that many students who earn relatively low AP scores still learned more than students scoring in the 90s in regular classes. At least, that is what I hear from students who have graduated from our high school and gone on to competitive colleges.

  3. Schools also push kids into AP courses, in order to score better on rankings or to achieve racial/ethnic balance.
    I don’t like the Challenge Index because its focus is on taking the course, not on percentages of kids taking the AP test, or getting 3 vs. 4 vs. 5.
    I don’t like pushing unprepared students into AP classes because it’s not fair to the prepared kids to slow or dilute the class, and that does happen. I know there is pressure from administrators to “make sure all kids do well” in the class; flunking/counseling out the weak is often discouraged, especially if the class ends up insufficiently “diverse.” Putting more kids into AP classes also requires more teachers, who may be less experienced/knowledgeable with that level of material.
    It used to be common to require successful completion of the appropriate honors-level class before entry into the AP course. Honors World History before AP Euro, Honors Chem before AP chem, corequisite AP Calc BC with the top AP Physics etc. That meant that all of the kids in the class had the requisite background to handle a real college-level course and were likely to get at least a 4 on the test.
    I’m all for preparing more kids for AP courses, but that means far better preparation in ES and MS and far better and earlier planning for high school. It’s unfair to the prepared kids to allow those who don’t know the Reformation from the Renaissance from the French Revolution into AP Euro or kids who read at a 6th-grade level to take an AP English.

  4. Mom in Georgia and others, Wouldn’t it be a better use of a serious student’s time to take CLEP exams instead of AP Classes? My understanding is that more colleges except CLEP.

    As a homeschooler I wonder rather it would be more benficial to send my kid to the local highschool, take the AP class, or just study and pass the CLEP at home.

  5. majority of AP teachers said “too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads.”

    Isn’t that a good thing for them to learn?

    I say: Offer more AP classes. Flunk those who can’t/won’t do the work. Of course, you could do the same in the regular classes, but few do.

  6. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Stacy– A lot of the more selective schools grant credit for AP but not CLEP. (For instance, the University of Chicago, many of the Ivies, etc..)

    So depending on where your child wants to go, AP is a better choice.

  7. Marshall – IF flunking out the unprepared/unwilling/unable is a valid option, acceptable to both the teacher and the administration, then I’m willing to let kids try. Otherwise, no.

    Mom in Georgia – You don’t even have to take the AP course in order to take the exam; my daughter took both English Language and Geography on her own, because of scheduling conflicts. Community colleges may also be an option, but some are less rigorous than bright, motivated kids working on their own, because of their student characteristics. Local 4-year colleges are another option.

  8. In places where they are playing the school rating game, which is largely based on numbers of students enrolled in AP, yes, I believe the wrong kids are in there. They would do better in an “honors” level class that offered the appropriate measure of rigor. It is hard to learn anything when you’re overwhelmed. A student who earns a 1 on the exam did not belong in AP – it was either over his head or he didn’t bother trying on the exam.

    In other places, more kids should probably be in AP. There’s no point in skimming for guaranteed 4 and 5s, either.

    The problem with kids failing is a) they suck up a lot of teacher energy trying to get them turned around with parent conferences, etc. At that level, don’t the kids who are ready and willing deserve that energy? b) with my state requiring 4 years of English, the students who just flunked first semester are now no longer on track to graduate. For a senior, this is a problem.

    Stacy: AP trumps CLEP. One word of caution, though: in AP Literature the novels and poetry are typically very mature, so if you are home schooling for religious reasons, you will want to investigate the reading list.

  9. Mom in Georgia says:

    Don Bemont – You are right about college-bound kids/courses. Students are not ability grouped (college bound, etc), anymore due to political correctness. Since we are a rural, high poverty school, the only way for my kids to get even a slightly challenging curriculum is to take AP.

    AP is the new “college bound” course for many schools where there is an enormous difference in ability levels -and no other way for the schools to group by ability.

  10. As is usually the case in these discussions, no one makes a distinction between types of schools. In the typical suburban school, the competition factor is huge, and all the comments about grade inflation, etc, are relevant.

    In a typical urban or predominantly low income school, there’s no pressure. The schools just call classes AP (there are numerous stories of kids from low income schools who have AP Calculus on their resume and 350 SAT Math scores and never covered anything more than algebra) and use it to give their hardest working kids a transcript that allows state universities to pretend they are treating all kids similarly, regardless of SES. In other words, it’s a massive fraud that allows barely literate kids to be selected ahead of the kids in suburban schools who don’t take AP courses but whose regular coursework is four or five grade levels ahead of the low income/urban school kids. It’s that awareness that forces suburban parents to push their kids into AP programs even if they’d rather now–or, if they don’t, they end up with kids who can’t get into a UC despite solid skills well ahead of the bottom 20% of UC students who are accepted because of fraud.

    There really aren’t too many cases of good suburban schools with decent AP courses having trouble with kids who can’t read in these courses. The kids who can’t read are taking AP courses, just in different schools.

  11. Teacher in the Burbs says:

    Some suburban schools shamelessly play the yearly rankings game by pushing as hard as possible to get as many butts in the seat in AP classes as possible. That means that administrators are too often concerned to only get the most popular teacher in that subject, which inevitably means the easiest grader, which means the lowest standards. From my own experiences and observations, in suburban schools, AP courses are a part of a cynical transcript-padding game. However, for rural schools where there is little opportunity to prepare for college, well-taught AP classes can be great experiences that open doors for the students.

  12. Miller Smith says:

    Good evening.

    As some of you may know, I work for Prince George’s County public schools in the state of Maryland. At present, at my high school, Bowie High in Bowie Maryland, we are on track for placing every single student in the school in at least one AP class before they graduate. That’s right! Every single student in an AP class.

    This year we have seen students with Ds in their English classes from the previous school year being placed in AP English. The school administration, under the orders of the main administration and the central office, have started placing students of every type in AP classes that the students had not even requested. Why would we do such a thing?

    If you look at my high school on the Newsweek website, you will see that my high school is in the top 50 of the best high schools in the nation. You want to know how we got there? Why, by simply looking at the criteria selected by Newsweek on how to get in their top 50 list. One of the criteria that Newsweek defines a good school by is, how many students as a percentage of the student body are in AP classes.

    That’s right! The more students, as a percentage of the student body that a school has enrolled in at least one AP class per year is what Newsweek considers to be a measure of a good high school. The fact that an overwhelming majority of all of our AP students failed to break a 3 score on the AP test seems to matter not to Newsweek in measuring the quality of the high school.

    The school system is not being run for the good of the student. The school system is being run for the good of the administration and the politicians who are part of the entire system that create students who know nothing when they go to college, can’t do anything when they graduate from high school, and who usually drop out of college after the first semester never to return.

    How do we solve this problem?

  13. tim-10-ber says:

    The Newsweek challenge test should (or does it) consider the number of students taking the course and taking and passing the test. My son’s former high school is a top 30 school in both Newsweek and US News and it is because kids are required to take a minimum of two AP classes. These kids are also required to take the AP test. However, the passing rate has been and continues to decline…

  14. AVID is a very good program that I support whole-heartedly. Unfortunately one flaw is that it usually requires students to take at least one AP course.

  15. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Everyone should go to college.

    Everyone should take AP classes.

    It’s just too bad everyone shouldn’t have to learn how to read in elementary school. That would make everything a whole lot easier.

  16. Unless your child wants to complete their undergrad at an Ivy League school or top tier university, CLEP is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Most regionally accredited school will accept a number of CLEP credits with no questions asked. Some colleges even take up to 90 CLEP credits!

    I found a great resource for info on all this, and they are very home school family friendly 🙂


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