Dear Extra Credit readers:

Here are some responses to my request for thoughts on the Advanced Placement programs in Montgomery County high schools:

Dear Extra Credit:

The actual content of AP courses seems to be something often overlooked. Montgomery County has emphasized increased participation in AP courses, especially by minority students, but I believe that this can often make the AP label meaningless.

When my son was at Kennedy High School, he took seven AP courses. Only one was even on a par with what other schools would call an honors course. In AP English, the teacher came from Blair with high aspirations. In the end, less than a fourth of the reading list was completed. Assignments were simply not completed by the students. By the middle of the year, I believe that the teacher had completely given up, and he left Kennedy at the end of the year.

How can anyone measure the effectiveness of taking AP courses when the term "AP" has no meaning but is simply used as a marketing ploy to placate parents?

Harold Hedrick

Silver Spring

Dear Extra Credit:

I think the opportunity to take AP classes -- whether kids get AP credit or not -- obviously gives kids the chance to take a more challenging class, and that is enough to make it worthwhile.

Andrea Kline

Silver Spring

Einstein High School parent

Dear Extra Credit:

I'm glad to be able to present my opinion of AP (and gifted and talented programs). I believe high school is for high schoolers. I think students need to mature academically, not by taking harder courses but by completely understanding the courses they take.

I did not believe in AP, so neither of my children took them. After high school, both kids felt they had a solid education, they understood how to study, and most of all they understood that to get good grades you must know everything that's taught. The results are that my son went to the University of Maryland in engineering. He graduated No. 1 with a 4.0 average. Then he went to Stanford and graduated 3.95 with a PhD in aerospace engineering. My daughter went to George Mason University, did well, then went to American University for a master's in business and now is a highly paid manager.

High school courses are for high school, and college courses are for college. Education should continue forever, but high school comes once.

Linda Stevens


I hope more readers will try to educate me on how AP really works. Stevens explained in a follow-up message that her children graduated from Wootton High School in 1987 and 1990. There have been a lot of changes since then in how AP is offered and taught, and she might be pleased.

I have been interviewing AP students for a long time, and most of them say they prefer AP because the teaching is often better and they know the test -- unlike a teacher's test that can easily be watered down -- is an authentic measure of whether they have reached a national standard.

I sympathize with the problems Hedrick saw in at least one AP course at Kennedy High. The difference, however, between failing an AP or International Baccalaureate course and failing any other kind of high school course is very significant. If most or all of the students in an AP or IB course take the exam, and that is usually the case in Montgomery County high schools, the exam grades will give a good indication of how prepared the students were for the material and how well the course was taught.

That English teacher at Kennedy had the chance to look at his students' results on an AP test that he did not write or grade himself, and to try new ways of motivating students to do the reading and turn in their work.

Without that outside assessment, he might have been tempted, as many teachers are, to bow to pressure and give an easy test that even his ill-prepared students could pass. But with AP, he has a chance to do what I have seen many great AP teachers do in schools with far more disadvantaged students than Kennedy has: use the exam as a rallying point and get students excited about the chance of beating a tough exam that kids in the rich part of town also take.

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