The high school sophomore was interested in computers, art and music. For his junior year, he told his counselor he wanted to take U.S. history, honors English, honors chemistry, computer math, economics and art.
No Advanced Placement courses appeared on his list. His high school in Loudoun County encouraged students to take AP classes to prepare them for higher education and help them impress colleges. But his U.S. history course would be college-level, supervised by Northern Virginia Community College. Computer math was a prerequisite for AP Computer Science, which he planned to take senior year.
His counselor astonished him and his parents by rejecting most of his choices. The student was assigned these courses he did not want: AP Chemistry, AP Calculus, AP Economics and an AP foreign language. The only courses from his list that the counselor accepted were U.S. history and honors English. He and his parents were upset, and rightly so.
Many talented AP teachers have convinced me that more high school students should be taking their courses. One College Board study showed 300,000 students whose PSAT scores that year indicated readiness for AP never got a chance to take those courses and the accompanying three-hour, independently written and graded exams.
In recent years, counselors and AP teachers nationally have convinced significantly more students that taking the challenging courses will help them. But it has been their choice. I have never before encountered a high school that ignored a student’s wishes and, without consultation, piled on AP instead.
Asked for a response, Clark Bowers, the Loudoun County public schools director of student services, said: “Course selection and career planning is a shared journey. We want our school counselors to listen to students’ goals and career aspirations, then provide input and recommendations. We also want our counselors to partner with parents to make sure their voices are part of the conversation.”
The parents I interviewed don’t feel they or their son were treated that way. They won’t let me use his or their names, or the school’s, because they fear the attention will affect his studies. He is now a senior with excellent college prospects. I have seen school documents verifying their story.
The student’s father said this was the counselor’s reason for shoving the student into AP Chemistry: “If you can do honors chemistry and you rocked biology your sophomore year, you need to challenge yourself.” The father added: “What the counselor was NOT selling was 90 minutes or more of homework for a class that he likely would not bother to take in college.”
The student had good reasons for his choices. Computer math was a prerequisite for AP Computer Science. Dropping it would have prevented him from taking the one AP course he wanted. Art was a prerequisite for the photography course he wanted to take his senior year. He had already met the state requirement for the foreign language in which his counselor wanted him to take an AP course. He chose regular economics rather than AP because he had orchestra and other useful activities that he preferred over more homework.
Why did the counselor make those AP assignments before discussing them with the student? Nearly all U.S. high school counselors have more cases than they can reasonably handle, so he may not have had time.
The mother made one call telling the counselor that the assignments were unacceptable and that their son would explain. The student usually was not pushy but wanted to save his junior year, so he visited the counselor nearly every day. Substituting art for the AP foreign language course and honors chemistry for AP Chemistry was easy because there were many available sections. He couldn’t get into regular economics because it was filled with seniors who needed it to graduate. He took a theater class instead, wishing there had been a more academic alternative.
When he learned the computer math class was full, he went into overdrive. He repeatedly visited the instructor and his counselor. They were “pretty sick of him,” his father recalled. After a week, a computer math student dropped the course and he was in.
I would love to hear from students, parents, teachers or counselors who have encountered such situations.
Next week I will reveal a new study showing that AP students who benefit most are not those who load up on the courses, but those who try just one or two APs to see what college is like.