Troubled Advanced Placement Courses?

Article excerpt


There is a troubling trend in public schools to enroll more students in Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

It is believed having average and below-average students enroll in harder classes will cause them to learn more and become better prepared for college. The College Board (the folks who also control the Scholastic Aptitude Test) push to expand its once exclusive AP programs has succeeded in numbers: they have more than doubled in the past 10 years.

However, there are many problems. AP has always had an aura. Students who get into AP classes are known for hard work and intellect. Being accepted into these classes provides students a sense of accomplishment. If all students take AP classes and no one is denied access, that sense of accomplishment vanishes. The very thing that makes AP so special will no longer be special, and AP itself will stand for Average Placement.

Some view this as elitism. That's why tracking, in which students are placed in classes with others of similar abilities, is no longer popular. Supposedly, tracking makes children with less ability feel inferior and higher ability children feel superior.

Well, doesn't that provide children not in advanced and honor classes a major incentive to work harder to get into them?

Besides, what is wrong with students feeling special? "The Incredibles" touched upon this theme when Dash, the boy who runs faster than everybody, is asked by his parents to stifle his speed so other children won't feel so bad. AP teachers will have to make compromises and dumb down their lessons to not lose those students unable to keep with the others.

Imagine how coaches would react if told to accept all students on a team with no tryouts. Or, to start a player who lacked the requisite skills, just to boost a kid's self-confidence.

Smart kids already get the short end of the stick on privileges. Gifted education is the worst-funded part of the education budget, good students rarely are recognized at school and are often ridiculed by peers. Now, their one haven, AP classes, where they have felt safe among other similar kids is becoming homogenized.

Another rationale for putting more students in AP is to provide them with more rigorous courses. But it isn't the material that makes AP challenging. It is the teacher's demands. And AP teachers tend to be the hardest-working at a high school. Why? Because the workload is such an average instructor would shy from it. There are plenty of teachers who don't want to take home loads of papers to grade, hold study sessions after school and sacrifice Saturdays and summer vacations to attend AP workshops.

By saying students need more rigor, administrators inadvertently criticize non-AP teachers. Instead of watering down AP classes with unqualified students, why don't principals call to task teachers of regular classes who don't create rigorous lessons?

Finally, there is a false assumption among educators all students want to go to college. This is not true. Over the years options for students have been eliminated due to the undue focus on standards and testing. …