A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

How much AP is too much?

Jay Matthews has a fascinating article at the WaPo about kids' AP courseloads:
Trevor Packer, executive director of the AP program, said he had spoken to a number of college officials about how many of the college-level courses were needed to impress admissions officers and prepare for the rigors of higher education. They told him that "three, four or five AP courses are sufficient" in a high school career, he said. Under that scenario, a student could max out with one AP course as a sophomore and two each in junior and senior years. "Beyond that, they are interested in seeing students participate in other activities."

Many college-bound students in recent years have been spurred by parents, counselors, admissions officers and other advisers -- as well as peer pressure and self-motivation -- to pack their transcripts with tough courses. Many believe the more, the better.

Yesterday, Packer addressed AP overload for the first time at the College Board's annual release of its AP Report to the Nation in downtown Washington. The report once again showed Maryland, the District and Virginia among national leaders in participation on the three-hour AP exams. About a third of graduating seniors in each jurisdiction took an AP test last year, higher than the national average of about a quarter.

Although area students who take a dozen or more AP courses or tests might be overdoing it, Packer and College Board President Gaston Caperton said, the national problem is not that high school students take on too much college-level work but that they take on too little.

Two students on an expert panel convened to discuss the AP report acknowledged that they were guilty of exceeding the five-exam mark. Kyle Daniels, a University of Maryland freshman who graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's County, said he took at least six AP exams. Celina Guerra, a Harvard University freshman who graduated from Edinburg North High School in south Texas, said she took at least nine. Both said that they took so many they could not recall the exact number.

College Board data showed that only 2.7 percent of AP students took six or more tests in the past three years, as Daniels did. But he said he was glad he did. "College is a competitive place," he said. "Competing in high school is good preparation for college."

College Board officials reported that 2.3 million AP tests were given in 2006 in 37 subjects. Among 2006 high school graduates, about 24 percent took at least one AP exam, up from about 16 percent in 2000. About 15 percent got at least one grade on an AP test high enough for college credit (3 or better on a 5-point scale), up from about 10 percent in 2000.

The five states with the highest percentage of public high school seniors with at least one credit-worthy AP test grade were: New York, 22.7 percent; Maryland, 22 percent; Utah 20.8 percent; Virginia, 20.7 percent; and California, 20.1 percent. The District's mark of 6.6 percent exceeded the percentage in 19 states. In addition, Maryland had the sharpest six-year increase in the nation; its mark in 2000 was 14.1 percent.

There's more to read in the whole thing.

I'll be honest: we have a few kids who take too much, but the main problem we have is kids who won't take AP becuase they want the high GPA without all the hassle.

I was having a chat with some of my students today where they realized that they have almost read the entire textbook already, and that they've never done that before. EVER.

Now, I'll be honest-- that freaks me out just a bit, but let's just leave that aside for a moment. Our school is always walking a fine line between encouraging all kids to take AP and making sure that kids who take AP are willing to rise to the level required. When I first started teaching AP, I got some pressure placed on me to water down the course to make it easier. I know some people do this-- and they are the reason why I now have to spend time completing some stupid audit in my already hectic schedule so that we can use the AP designation next year.

I have made this class as "easy" as I can without making it difficult for my students to possibly earn a 5. I am constantly reminded that I make the kids do more than other AP teachers. I am okay with this because, since I found my groove, our passing rate has increased to over 70% in a school that is solidly diverse in terms of socio-conomic status and future college-attendance plans. I strangely have students who actually seek out the Cornelius experience, so I guess it can't be that bad. They're good kids-- they just need to be pushed and made to feel that they can do it.

But we do have a few who are seeking to be valedictorian who overschedule everything, not just AP. And they make themselves just about crazy. But I have yet to see anyone tell them that enough is enough.



At 2/8/07, 11:14 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I took a lot of AP courses in high school, and several AP tests that I simply studied for in my spare time. I graduated with a relatively low GPA--2.8, IIRC. That had much more to do with my unwillingness to do homework than the difficulty of my courses, but the latter had some effect, I'm sure. I was far from valedictorian.

When I went to college, I had 41 credit hours under my belt already. I had tested out of almost two years of school.

At 2/9/07, 7:12 AM, Anonymous Miss Profe said...

I'm conflicted about the AP. At my current place of employ, AP courses aren't offered. We teach "the range", and if there are students which are so motivated, and there are, they can opt to take college level courses at the university next door. My previous place of employ did not offer AP courses, but kids took the AP exams. Needless to say, the kiddos did not do very well. After all, the AP curriculum is a test-driven curriculum, and it helps to be enrolled in AP courses. But neither the kids nor the college counselor seemed to understand that. Kids took the AP exams largely out of parental pressure, supported in part by half-truths told by various faculty members that the so-called "college level nature" of the courses in which their children were enrolled would prepare them. Of course, it did not. Basura.

I think that given the changing world, and our students' role in it, AP curriculum and tests will give way to learning experiences which are far more meaningful. However, it will take changingthe mentality and culture of the admissions offices of our country's most competitive colleges and universities to not give the AP as much cache as they have in the past, and currently do. After all, which student would be more appealing? The one who loaded up on AP, or the one who gave up her Spring Break to participate in a Model UN trip to Ireland? I'll allow the reader to make his/her own choice.

At 2/10/07, 8:30 PM, Blogger Dave said...

I came across your blog through your comment on Ron Davison's 13 teenage books list post.

This post interested me due to several things. I have a degree, though about 35 years old, in secondary education. I taught one year in a private school self contained classroom (do they use that term anymore?) of sixth graders.

Over the holidays, my brother and his family visited town from Phoenix. He and his wife have two girls, a twenty year old and a fourteen year old.

The conversation turned to AP and its effect on both kids. The elder, now a Junior at Arizona, had something in the neighborhood of a 3.6 GPA in high school with a lot of AP classes. Her competitors, having taken a few or no AP classes had a bit higher GPA's and got more scholarship money. She was counseling her younger sister to take few AP courses so as to follow the course of the competitors. My brother who is paying the scholarship shortfall tended to agree. As an aside, both girls are involved in all of the extra activities that appear to me to be designed to impress a college.

That got windy. When did education become a game of Risk? My brother wasn't thrilled when I suggested that my younger niece take all the AP she could so as to learn as much as she could.

Enjoyed your blog.

At 2/11/07, 3:34 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, here's the problem. I hate the fact that I have to goosestep my students though certain fascinating historical eras. However, before AP came along, our school offered "college credit" classes in which the teacher talked about anything they wanted to all year long, which certainly did not give students even a basic overview of history. These classes were then used to avoid taking suvey courses in college, so many of these students never really got a basic grasp of US history. I think that is a crime.

So AP provides an excuse for rigor for me in a school and a world that values form over substance. It is certainly not perfect, but nothing is.

The irony is that I believe that the AP EXAM is far more rigorous than most professors are in their freshman survey courses. The exam needs to be tweaked. And last year's DBQ prompt was horribly written and conceived, and probably set back women's history about ten years.

At 2/16/07, 11:00 PM, Blogger EliRabett said...

I teach chemistry at a University. The thing that worries me the most about our curriculum is that it does not provide much room for students to experiment. Too many required courses in and out of the major.

From my own experience (many years ago), the best thing about the AP courses (2) that I took was that they gave me room to experiment and take the strange things I was interested in, but would have never fit in my program otherwise. On the other hand today, I see too many students that use their AP courses to rush through college in 3.5 or even 3 years. And then on to med school, of course.


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