Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Good Are AP Classes?

Is the emphasis on AP classes a good thing? Today the College Board offers 39 different AP tests. Many kids believe that the greater the number of AP classes taken, the better than chance of getting into more selective schools. I read that one high school guidance counselor once told a group of parents that if their teens didn't have nine AP classes on their transcript, the so-called best schools wouldn't even look at them.

I have no idea if this is true -- but if it is, shame on all of us. AP classes, like most, are only as good as the teacher. But good teacher or not, it's a two-semester sprint to get through all of the material covered on those big exams given in the spring. Here's a piece from The Atlantic that certainly may make you rethink the whole AP situation. Some of the worries listed: it limits discussion time or expansion of topics -- gotta move on to cover all of the work; some schools let anyone take an AP course (no pre-testing or grade requirement) which means that thousands of students are in the classes and struggle to do the work, holding back other students; the courses are usually not equivalent to an introductory course in college; and most colleges do not let you skip a semester or whatever due to an accumulation of AP credits.

Now, our teen is taking two AP classes her senior year. She has not taken all that her school offered, by any stretch -- primarily because a significant number are in math and science which she never believed were her best subjects or interests. I would have worried if she hadn't taken any -- afraid that colleges wouldn't think she was a contender.

If you want to get really upset about the whole AP thing, here's something pointed out in the article: "The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from its Advanced Placement program -- more than all its other revenue streams (SATs, SAT subject tests, PSATs) combined." Wow. So that's where that $89/test fee goes!

Lots of education needs to happen before this dependence on AP tests subsides: colleges, counselors, parents, students all need to think carefully about whether the AP approach offers the best education -- or does it just give colleges an easier way to reject?

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