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Two Radically Different AP Experiences

(By Julie Zhu)
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Thursday, February 5, 2009

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Dear Extra Credit Readers:

Here are two students with sharply different views of Advanced Placement, the program of college-level courses and testing in high school. Who is right?

Dear Extra Credit:

Concerning your Nov. 3 column ["Wide Access to AP, IB Isn't Hurting Anybody"], on whether AP discourages or encourages students to do well, my personal experience is that once I was given the opportunity to participate in a challenging yet interesting subject, my grades gradually went up.

As a student from Arlington County's Wakefield High School, one of the most diverse high schools in the nation, I see low-income black students succeed every day. Sometimes I see them doing better than I am, although I am a biracial, high-income student.

For most of my career in high school, I was a straight-C or below achiever. But since entering AP courses, my interest in school has taken a sharp turn. AP courses aren't just, as you put it, "wearisome three-hour exams." They are all-year wearisome exams, testing our stamina.

Sometimes I have a million essays due the next day, and all I feel like doing is sleeping. But AP revives a sleepy mind. It's not only a good way to benchmark high schools, but, individually, kids can keep their sights on what they need. I see it as not only an intensive way to prepare for college, but also as a roadmap for going to college. Without that extra push, there's a depression in which average classes, and their students, get stuck. AP opens a window through which students can see what college is like and discover that it is much more compelling than standard high school classes.

I wasn't "set up for failure" with AP, as some people say, and neither were the other minority kids in my school. An AP teacher should be someone able to give, as you say, the "extra time and encouragement students need to learn." Because of the luck I have had with AP teachers, I think that my performance improved strongly, even if my exam grades weren't perfect. Of course, it would be nice to score high enough to get college credit, but colleges still see that AP students are challenging themselves.

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