December 21st, 2009

Does "advanced" have to mean "better"?

10WolfsonHigh022108On the New York Times’s “Room for Debate” blog, a daily topic is offered up to a panel of experts for commentary, and yesterday they were talking about the “Advanced Placement Juggernaut.” A.P. classes have been offered to high school students for fifty years now, but in the past five their enrollment has increased by 50 percent. The program is nearly universally accepted as a good thing, and it’s particularly well-liked by college admissions officers. But some researchers and educators call its value into question.

Trevor Packer, who represents the College Board in the Times’s discussion, argues that the only problem with Advanced Placement is how few minority and underserved students have access to AP classes. He says:

…studies have indicated that teachers’ preconceived notions of student potential are often at odds with student capability. We should applaud teachers willing to take on students whom others had pre-judged as lacking in potential, not just those interested in teaching students who are likely to earn a 5 on an A.P. test.

Of course, as teacher Patrick Welsh notes, the College Board has a vested interest–in the way of $86 per A.P. exam administered–in the steady increase of A.P.’s popularity across all demographics. And researcher Kristin Klopfenstein points out that many students hoping to get into selective colleges enroll in A.P. classes without taking the final exam. Because many high schools weight the grades of students enrolled in A.P. classes, students know that A.P.s will not only look good on their transcripts, they’ll also boost their class ranks.

We recently covered the success of BASIS charter schools in Arizona, where they credit much of their success to a heavy focus on A.P. coursework. Are college-level classes the key to successful learning in high school? Let us know what you think.

The Advanced Placement Juggernaut [NYT, 12/20/09]

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1 comment

As the owner of The Edge, an educational consulting company that specializes in test preparation and admissions counseling, I find that college-level classes are definitely beneficial for some students, and a hinderance for others. For students who have showed a sincere interest in the subject matter and a certain level of ability, AP courses are wonderful because they will expand their knowledge of the topic and will give them the exposure to more challenging assignments. However, for students not ready for the demands of a college-level course, APs can be frustrating and uncomfortable because of the fast-prace and increased workload.

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