Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Advanced Placement Conundrum

Advanced Placement has been more front and center in the news lately and it’s the perfect time to throw in my opinion about the controversies regarding the tougher courses.

How about some background.  First of all, Advanced Placement History courses did not exist when I got to Ukiah in 2001.  AP U.S. History was first to bat a few years after my arrival, then AP European History for sophomores and AP Comparative Government for Seniors arrived a couple of years after that.  I created the Comp Gov class in an attempt to broaden the horizons of higher end students who might get bored with standard U.S. Government.  I took on AP U.S. History two years ago and now teach both APUSH and AP Comp Gov.  It’s hard as hell, but I love doing it.

A couple things to note about AP classes.  First, the College Board recommends no restrictions to entrance into the classes.  This creates interesting decisions that schools need to make about who is actually up to taking an AP class.  Schools get benefits in scores when more students take, and hopefully pass, AP tests.  There is really no disincentive to tell students no.  In the extreme cases you get the Carver High School mess in New Orleans, where a third of the student body took AP tests and nobody passed.  However studies show that students that take and fail AP tests actually do much better in college than students that take no Advanced Placement courses.  Simply taking the rigorous work helps prepare students for a college level class. 

In terms of APUSH and AP Comp Gov, I have an odd problem.  On one hand I have to filter through students that might not belong in an Advanced Placement class.  Students sign up for the class with C’s and D’s in prior History and English classes.  In theory, we are not supposed to tell them “no”.  However, the other side of the coin is the demand by the District that all classes must be full.  AP Comp Gov had 45 sign-ups and I had to turn nine students away.  But it has been a struggle to fill APUSH, and I’ll by down a third of my students within a week because a significant number of students do not want to do Advanced Placement work.  So should the class be collapsed because we can only get 22 APUSH level students, or is it actually harming the school by dumbing it down?

Believe it or not, class scheduling for next year starts in two weeks, after this idiotic “Ski Week” break that I don’t need for AP classes.  We shall see what happens. 

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