Got an Opinion on AP Courses? Join the Club

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

I enjoyed the column and the dialogue with the Eleanor Roosevelt High School students [Extra Credit, March 26], but there are three science and technology programs in Prince George's County. Roosevelt's program began when the school opened its doors in fall 1976. Oxon Hill's program was cloned in fall 1983, and Charles Herbert Flowers got the third in fall 2000.

I'm tired of hearing statistics that claim Advanced Placement enrollment, even with no AP test, confers a "greater success rate" in that course in college. Consider this statement: "Participants in a marathon, regardless of whether they receive a medal, perform better in later long-distance races than those who have never entered a marathon." Really! AP enrollees have already been selected for their academic skills by meeting prerequisites and have shown the motivation to attempt the course. Of course they do better than those who never tried or were excluded in high school.

Mike Creveling

La Plata

You will never hear such a statistic from me. But we now have good data from Texas showing that even when comparing students with equally low standardized test scores, suggesting that they all have academic difficulties, those who have taken an AP course and gotten at least a 2 on the test generally do better in college than those who have not taken AP classes.

Dear Extra Credit:

I always wondered why you didn't use a weighted average, the sum of the scores received on the AP tests, instead of simply the number taken. Surely a school with 100 students taking the AP test and receiving a 5 should be ranked higher (500) than a school with 100 students receiving an average of say, 3 (300).

Bill Szymczak

Quince Orchard High dad

Montgomery County

That is the way we have rated high schools for many years, looking at which have the highest test scores. It appears to me to be more a measure of the average incomes of parents of the students than a measure of the quality of the teaching. The Challenge Index rates schools by AP test participation, not scores, to show which schools have administrators and faculty working hardest to expose students to college standards.

Dear Extra Credit:

My daughter took AP classes throughout high school. Yes, they were challenging, but she always did extremely well. When it came time for the final test, though, she did not pass it. I question the testing vs. teaching, because my daughter graduated in the top 1 percent of her class, with honors, with a 3.8 out of 4. All that time and effort to try to get some college credits were wasted, and I think she could have enjoyed her high school years had it not been for all the extra work she did to try to get some relief when she went to college.

Linda Christopher

Fort Washington

I am very sorry to hear of your daughter's experience with AP. Sadly, some schools have AP courses that are not taught at an AP level, in which students get good grades for a level of work that the school knows will not bring success when the student takes the AP exam, which is written and scored by outside experts. That test is a measure of the teaching at that school. I hope the school administrators are giving this more attention.

Dear Extra Credit:

As a former student of Eleanor Roosevelt as well as a former AP student, I took a special interest in the questions submitted by the 11th-graders at my esteemed alma mater. I think you, however, missed the point entirely. You were defensive and apparently all too protective of the precious Challenge Index.

These kids are in the trenches now. They don't have to speculate about AP courses, text or outcomes, because they are living it in real time. It's nice to put your spin on it and talk about AP statistics in theory, but listen to the people who are working through the process in high school. Did you take AP classes? Did you take the tests? I challenge you to go to Roosevelt and sit through their AP classes, then gain some real perspective.

Gabrielle Tibbs


I have taken an AP test and have spent 27 years watching AP teachers at work, which led to two books about AP and one about International Baccalaureate. The students and I were not in disagreement over whether they were working hard, but whether the index is a useful measure of a school. It would have been disrespectful of them and their good questions if I had not given them my honest opinion on that.

Dear Extra Credit:

My organization works with approximately 170 junior and senior high school students weekly in seven high schools in Calvert and St. Mary's counties. The majority of these students are considered "underserved" -- minority, low-income, first generation to be college-bound. It has been my experience that our students are testing their boundaries, exploring their critical thinking and formulating their opinions on matters that concern them. Often their comments are snarky, opinionated and oppositional.

My disappointment came from your responses to these students' comments and questions. Some of your responses were snarky, opinionated and defensive. I felt when reading the article that you departed from your usual sensibility and dove right into a typical "I'm the adult, you are just children" mode of communication.

Sonia K. Wagner


Oh dear. I am sorry you felt that way. Longtime readers of this column know that I am often snarky, opinionated and defensive, and share my view that it is way too late for me to change. You might have caught me on a good day before, when I was showing my well-hidden sensibility.

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