Reconsidering AP Courses Nationwide

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Long the standard for successful high school students, AP classes are now on the table for reconsideration.  For schools all over the country, APs are more popular than ever, especially for students eager to enter the college admissions process.  However, many elite schools have chosen to opt out of the “AP Frenzy” and design “better and more rigorous courses on their own that won’t force them to adhere to someone else’s curriculum and timeline and force teacher to teach the test” (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/08/is-it- time- to-reconsider- ap-classes/). Students, parents, and teachers alike have contributed input based on the successes and downfalls of the AP system.  By looking at AP benefits and downfalls, and hearing from those following this track, it is evident that further retention of AP courses taught in high schools nationwide is at stake.

Advanced Placement courses are offered at high schools across the country as a preview for the class difficulty level in college.  Given that many colleges acknowledge students who participate in APs, along with accepting credit from those who excel in such courses, this trend is an attraction for both parents and students who feel an urge to pursue this “extra push” when entering the college admissions process.  Kristin Klopfenstein, director of the University of Northern Colorado’s Education Innovation Institute, admits the motivation for APs as seen through the eyes of many- “the solution to having kids prepared for college” (http://www.marketplace.org/2015/05/04/education/learning-curve/changing- role-advanced- placement-classes).  Klopfenstein’s truth draws a direct parallel between this “extra push” and the overall frenzy the AP world has created.  

From Chinese, to Studio Art, to Statistics, and more, AP courses cover a whopping list of subjects.  Classified AP courses are required to follow a certain tracking, which compels teachers “to adhere to someone else’s curriculum and timeline."

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(http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/08/is-it- time-to- reconsider-ap- classes/). Ultimately, such courses “force teachers to teach to the test” (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/08/is-it- time-to- reconsider-ap- classes/), a prevalent issue in this national debate.  Robert Vitalo, Head of School at Brooklyn prep school Berkeley Carroll, spoke out on this question, along with many other teachers whose points reveal agreement.  He states, “Our major complaint with the AP courses was that it was a race for breadth against depth.” (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/08/is-it- time-to- reconsider-ap- classes/), continuing, “We think the way of the world, the way to be teaching, the way that kids should be learning is to look at how subjects and questions and ideas are connected and related, and to take the time to make those connections and ask those questions and not to have it be a race to cover a lot of content.”  It is evident that it is not the rigor of these courses that is causing a distress, but the timing crunch required to cover the material presented.  Nationally, independent school administrations have wrestled with how to pursue the challenge AP courses offer, altering the structure and timing to fit individual classrooms.

Scarsdale High School is applauded for turning out “some of the nation’s finest college prospects” (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/04/education/04EDUCATION.html?_r=2&).  Over 70% of their 1,500 students take an AP course; many take five or six to boost their resumes and impress college admission officers. Scarsdale administrators have concluded that the “AP pile-on is helping turn the teenage years into a rat race where learning becomes a calculated means to an end rather a chance for in-depth investigation, imagination, even some fun to go along with all that amassing of knowledge” (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/04/e ducation/04EDUCATION.html?_r=2&).  Teachers input reveals that APs have caused an effect on the classroom- one that frenzies students, yet controls the direction of the lesson. Although it is valid to say that many colleges prefer applicants whose schedules are filled with APs, Scarsdale parents are signaling a considerable desire to drop the program.  Similar to Scarsdale High School’s outlook on AP courses, Andrew Meyers from Fieldston School in Bronx discarded the program.  Meyers, history chairman at Fieldston, recalled an AP class he attempted to cut short, “I remember we had this great conversation about the Reconstruction and I said ‘I’m sorry, we have to go on to women’s suffrage.’  The students looked at me and said: ‘But we’re Fieldston.  We’re supposed to have the opportunity to have this kind of conversation.’” (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/04/education/04EDUCATION.html?_r=2&) As this anecdote and Scarsdale’s history suggest, AP courses are causing an excessive, time-limiting drive.  

Clearly, the argument against offering APs is rational, but the pressure still exists in independent schools to continue such course offerings. Recent studies have revealed that the choice not to offer AP programs is considered in mostly affluent schools.  The issue for reconsideration lies within those “cash- strapped schools” (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/08/is-it- time-to- reconsider-ap- classes/), which discover issues with the lack of resources, both time and money, to design and execute specialized courses incorporating college-level difficulty.  

Some independent schools worry about making sure their curriculum stands up to other schools nationwide. School administrators have revealed concerns about substituting school-made courses with AP courses, particularly as their schools are compared with other schools nationwide. Several administrators have acknowledged the issue and the desire to create rigorous, college-level courses.  However, by enacting such courses and disregarding APs, some schools worry that they may negatively impacts students as they enter the college process.  With other schools continuing APs, administrators worry that without such courses their students lose the “AP stamp”, reducing their value in college admissions.  For this reason, schools must decide between offering AP courses or a different model of those classes.  Speaking about curriculum at Riverdale, Dominic Rudolph notes, “If you have APs in your curriculum, then everything else is judged not as rigorous” (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/08/is-it- time-to- reconsider-ap- classes/). Clearly, there is no going halfway.

Until all schools can create their own versions of courses with the same level of rigor and difficulty as AP classes, the choice of opting away from AP classes does not seem wise.  For many schools, it seems that AP courses “may be the cheapest and easiest way to indicate high achievement” (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/08/is-it- time-to- reconsider-ap- classes/), setting their students up with the higher edge when entering the college admission process. The desire to substitute college-level courses for standardized AP classes is clear.  Parents, students, and teachers alike have been questioning AP courses and their value. The successes and downfalls of AP courses are evident, yet the final determination rests with high schools nationwide. Only time will tell.

 

 

One Response

  1. Rachel Hall

    October 12, 2016 10:36 pm

    I've always argued that "teaching to the test" isn't a bad thing if the test is a good one.  While some of the AP's emphasize breadth over depth, I'm definitely a fan of the most recent version of the AP Spanish Language and Culture test, which definitely helps students to build both their interpersonal and presentational skills in the language.  I've taught about five versions of this test over the years, and I would say that by teaching to this particular test, students successfully develop a variety of very authentic, useful communicative skills — through the use of authentic cultural materials.  I should also say that I have worked for the College Board's AP program for over 15 years, training professors and teachers to score the speaking portion of the exam at the annual AP Reading.  Most of my colleagues there also appreciate this particular exam, though I recognize that we are all people who choose to participate in the scoring process.  

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