Year after year Newsweek publishes its list of the “best” high schools in America (like this one), and newspapers around the nation rush to print and comment on the standings (like this one). Essentially, the rankings are based on how many AP exams (Advanced Placement exams) are taken when measured against how many students are in a particular school.
Superintendents and principals then desire to be on the list and try to encourage as many students as possible to take the classes and hopefully pass the exams. I absolutely love open enrollment for students, and this includes AP courses.
However, pushing kids to take classes beyond their abilities is irresponsible in my view.
I teach a junior-year College in the High School class which is a lead-in to our AP English course, and we have open enrollment. This, to me, is a fantastic policy. There is a mountain of research detailing how students who take AP courses are much more successful at universities, and allowing students to choose this pathway is an excellent policy.
Still, the students need to understand the level of production required, the amount of homework needed to be successful, and the speed at which these courses move. Too many students are allowed to enter these classes who do not have the skills needed to be successful. They are not referred to the instructors and are not counseled towards a proper placement. If a student acknowledges what is expected of him/her, then the student should enroll; otherwise, a better choice should be presented to the student.
This year I had three students drop my first period class at the semester because they did not know how much of a step up they would be taking. All semester long these students struggled to keep up, and the real problem was that their reading and writing levels were very low for the course; their abilities would have been low for the mainstream (“regular”) class.
In our attempts to gain kudos, to be seen as a top school, and to prepare kids for collegiate coursework, we have to be careful not to place students in positions where they won’t succeed. We can’t set students up for failure.
I guess another post could dedicated to this question: should we be preparing every student for college? Is this appropriate or realistic?