Advanced Placement classes used to be reserved for top students. Now, schools are opening AP to nearly everyone, reports Marketplace. That’s challenged students to work harder and aim higher. It’s also challenged teachers to reach less-prepared, less-motivated students without watering down their classes.
More than two million high school students across the country are are expected to take AP exams this month.
Five years ago, only 10 percent of students took an AP course at North County High in a working-class suburb of Baltimore. Less than one-fourth of seniors planned to attend a four-year college.
Expectations were low, says Julie Cares, the principal. “A lot of kids not only didn’t believe it was possible, but it didn’t even occur to them that was something they might do.”
To build a college-going culture, the school added more AP courses, eliminated all of the requirements to get in and pushed every student to take at least one. In five years, the number of AP students has tripled, from about 200 to 600.
There are more students in classes like AP English Language and Composition, where a class of juniors recently wrestled with concepts like “polysyndeton” and “metonomy.” In an assignment designed to help prepare them for the upcoming exam, students are asked to identify the rhetorical strategy in a passage from literature or popular music.
At first, teachers were eager to “help more kids,” says Jennifer Mermod, who teaches AP English. But some students aren’t ready. She breaks her class into small groups, sometimes asking better-prepared students to serve as leaders. “Other times you cohort them together so they can have their, ‘higher-level, you came prepared, you deserve to be rewarded with a better discussion,'” Mermod says.
She urges some students to take an honors class, a step below AP, to earn a higher grade. “I want them to get into college — that’s the point of the program, so I really don’t want a kid that’s going to come into the class and not at least get a C,” says Mermod.
The high school has added tutoring, and expanded a college-prep program called AVID. Luis Romero, who will be the first in his family to attend college, learned note-taking and study skills in his AVID class.
Romero has passed all but one of the many AP exams he’s taken, including Computer Science, Human Geography, U.S. Government and World History.
That’s not the norm at North County High: More than two-thirds of AP students don’t earn a high enough score to get college credit. However, students develop skills like writing and critical thinking that will serve them in college, says Principal Cares.
Apparently, the “honors” track doesn’t do that. That makes me worry about the school’s ability to maintain the rigor of AP classes. AP for more students makes sense. AP for all?