AP for Everyone

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

One of President Bush's best phrases is "the soft bigotry of low expectations." North Eugene High School will strike a blow against that insidious and often self-fulfilling form of bigotry by requiring that all juniors enroll in Advanced Placement English language and composition courses. Students, parents and teachers can expect both failures and successes - but the real failure here would be not to try.

Successes, including some spectacular ones, will come from students who are asked to perform beyond what they and others thought were their limits, and who discover capabilities they didn't know they had. Failures, including some dispiriting ones, will come from students who simply can't or won't handle the college-preparatory work of an AP course. But every student will be given the chance to tackle challenging material, which is a great advance over the widespread assumption that many just aren't up to the task.

North is a good laboratory for this experiment. The school is in the process of breaking itself into a collection of smaller autonomous schools, all under one roof - a transformation that creates opportunities for innovations. North is also in need of a comprehensive effort to improve student performance. More than 80 percent of last year's freshman class had trouble reading at grade level, with 60 percent at or below sixth-grade level.

Requiring these students to attempt to meet the demanding standards of AP coursework may seem to be asking too much. But it's better to ask too much than to ask too little. The idea that mediocrity is accepted, or the notion that advanced coursework is for only the academic elite - messages that are too often absorbed by students, however inadvertently they may have been communicated - will be replaced with an expectation that every student is regarded as having the potential for high performance. …