Dear Extra Credit:
I have been following your questions, answers and comments regarding AP classes in Montgomery County for several weeks. I was particularly taken with last week's comments by Amy E. Malone ["Teacher Says Emphasis of AP Comes With a Cost," Extra Credit, Dec. 1]. In my eyes, she has hit the nail on the head in several instances.
I was inclined to agree fully with her assessment of on-level classes and the makeup of these classes. Most parents who are even mildly involved in their child's schooling realize that once they hit high school, on-level classes become the place for behavior problems and non-motivated students, and those classes should be avoided if at all possible. Additionally, I tend to agree with her that the teaching of AP classes is inconsistent throughout the county.
Last and most important, I concur that the county is doing a disservice to students as well as parents by blindly promoting AP courses (particularly to sophomore students) without any sort of testing to see if they should truly be there when a regular honors course might be a better fit.
To set the record straight, I am not a teacher, educator or formally involved in the education field. I am a mom with three kids, so this makes me an informal educator of sorts. Two of my daughters have been through MCPS (graduation in 2000 and 2003), and the third one is currently a sophomore at Magruder High School.
Of the two older daughters, one has graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park, and the other is a junior at Towson University. Both have taken AP courses at Magruder, albeit one each and only in their senior years. Of these classes, one daughter passed her AP class with a score acceptable to get her college credit.
Both have excelled in college without the benefit of taking multiple AP courses in high school. The older daughter graduated from U-Md. with a degree in economics and a 3.5 grade-point average. The second daughter is a nursing major at Towson University and is doing very well.
High school is just that -- it is not college. The AP classes taught in high school may have some similarities to a college-level class regarding extensive reading and a fast pace, but other than that, my experiences through my children are that taking AP classes is not an indication that you will or will not succeed in college.
MCPS is doing students and parents a huge disservice by propagating the belief that by not enrolling your children in AP classes, you are seriously damaging their futures regarding higher education.
This leads to the next scenario of the college admissions process. Opening this can of worms undoubtedly will spark many opinions. And they are just that, opinions, since the college admission offices will not say what they would prefer when it comes to grades. Is it the student who gets A's in on-level classes, the student who gets A's or B's or even C's in honors classes or the student who gets a B or C in an AP class? If the B or C student dropped down a class level (i.e., from AP to honors or honors to on-level) and got an A in that lower-level class, is that better from the college's standpoint or not?
The student's GPA would be higher with the better grade in a lower-level class. Whether colleges use a weighted or unweighted GPA when considering an application is also a question and not one that admissions offices want to answer.
When AP government was shoved at my daughter during registration last spring, its benefits extolled greatly by the history teachers, we discussed it and decided to pass. Again, I didn't feel at 15 she was ready to make the commitment needed to fully devote to the class. Whatever she might have garnered from the AP vs. honors government class in 10th grade would long be forgotten by the time she got to college. I will not, however, discourage her from taking AP classes in her senior year. Junior year would be questionable.
Clearly my experience dictates that AP classes are not a prediction of college success. They do have some value in possibly preparing students for the realities of a college course if taken in their senior year of high school, but most certainly will not predict success or failure at the college level.
Stacey A. Cohen
I appreciate such first-person accounts, but you have not yet shown that students are being shoved into difficult classes against their will. Your daughter, for instance, listened and made up her own mind, rejecting the 10th-grade AP course. (By the way, the ninth- and 10th-graders taking those courses in Montgomery County in most instances have been tested. The county now gives the PSAT to many eighth-graders and uses those results in its AP placement recommendations.)
I welcome other letters that might help me get at this feeling that students and their families are being kidnapped, trussed up and dumped into AP and IB courses against their will.
As for the college admissions angle, this is one of my little specialties.
I have interviewed dozens of admissions officials on this question and have concluded it is only relevant to that thin little slice of colleges that reject more students than they accept. In their cases, if your high school gives AP or IB courses, they want you to take at least three of them (although it would be hard to catch them being quite that precise). If the high school doesn't have such courses, they want you to take the most challenging classes available.
The final decisions are almost always comparisons between you and other students in the same school. That is when it gets competitive, and often the GPAs and number of AP courses such students have taken are pretty much the same. Extra-curricular activities and teacher recommendations are usually the tiebreakers.