Dear Extra Credit:
After reading your recent assessment of current research on Advanced Placement courses, two questions come to mind.
1. What about all of the students who take non-AP courses yet are intellectually stimulated by their teachers and classmates and go on to succeed in college?
2. When will those who shape the trends in education, specifically in Montgomery County, realize that their belief that AP courses are superior has some detrimental effects and is insulting to non-AP students and teachers?
Your view that "average students have little or no chance of getting a good grade on an AP test, and thus be prepared for college, unless their high school lets them take an AP course" [Extra Credit, Nov. 3] indicates your belief that only AP course participation prepares students for college. The current push for as many students as possible to take AP courses implies that non-AP students are not being adequately prepared for college, and that simply is not true.
This is my ninth year teaching high school English in Montgomery County, and I believe that my non-AP students receive rigorous course work that prepares them to succeed in college. As a mentor and tutor of AP students, I also see the uneven instruction that many AP students are receiving because the county does not require AP teachers to receive AP training. Many first- and second-year teachers are teaching AP courses.
Many AP students could receive a more rigorous education by staying in an honors course. This brings me to the second question and the problem created by this seemingly myopic philosophy that AP courses are superior to non-AP courses: the deterioration of on-level courses and the decrease in rigor and expectations in some of honors and AP courses.
Because Montgomery County insists on a homogeneous grouping of students, also known as tracking, and no longer requires academic achievement and teacher recommendations for entrance into honors and AP courses, the county's on-level courses have become a place for low-achieving, low-motivated and low-skilled students. These classes always did include such students, but the difference now is that the typically average students, in terms of skills and academic achievement, who are motivated to do well and who have parents who make education a priority are no longer in these classes. The obsessive push by the county to get kids into honors and AP courses has quickly taught parents that without these honors and AP courses, their children will not be ready for college. The county is doing a disservice to the students and their parents by promoting this idea.
I would like to see statistics from 10 to 15 years ago in the county that look at students' graduation rates from college and their high school course work. I think that would be more telling than current data, because every year I hear from former non-AP students who are succeeding in college.
Another point to consider is the fact that every year, more and more universities decide that AP test scores are not equivalent to taking one of their courses. This makes sense, because AP scores are re-balanced every year, and the 4's and 5's of 10 years ago are no longer the 4's and 5's of today. More colleges no longer accept AP scores or only accept scores of 5.
I do believe that the AP curriculum is strong and prepares students for college. However, I also believe that this preparation can be achieved in a non-AP classroom as well. The scramble to get as many students as possible into AP courses has caused schools to lose their way as they focus on numbers and not the best interests of the students.
Amy E. Malone
These are good questions that I have heard from many fine teachers. My answer: How are we poor parents to know which teachers are like you, establishing and maintaining a college-level standard without the benefit of AP, and which are succumbing to pressures that afflict all teachers when trying to keep their classes rigorous? And isn't it our decision, and our children's decision, rather than yours or the schools to make?
Reread your own description of on-level classes, full of students who are not very motivated to learn the material. In most American high schools, such classes still exist as you remember them, with both motivated and unmotivated students. Many of the motivated students are there because their school only allows high-B or A students into AP.
If you were one of the motivated students, or their parents, would you want to remain in the on-level class, or give AP or International Baccalaureate a try? AP and IB are organized around a final exam that the teacher cannot dumb down. They fortify a teacher who insists on keeping standards high. As you say, some AP classes have flaws, but they are on average more likely to deliver the kind of intense academic experience in high school that prepares students for college.
I cannot think of what I could say in good conscience to try to dissuade a student who wants to take AP or IB. If you know what you would say to such a student, send me those words, and I will put them in the column.
By the way, I have investigated selective colleges' decisions to demand higher AP scores for course credit, and they are based in nearly every case on little or no research, just a vague sense that a college introductory course must be better than an AP course. The College Board, on the other hand, uses real research to set its AP grades, which it does every five years or so based on giving the exams to college students who have just taken a college intro course on that subject. If the colleges gave AP exams to their students to calibrate their final-exam grades, I would have more respect for their opinions in the matter, but they don't.
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