Should AP Stand for Appropriate Placement?

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?


One thought on “Should AP Stand for Appropriate Placement?

  1. Laura Bradley

    Also, should we be encouraging teenagers to get college classes “out of the way” while in high school, when their brains just may not be ready to fully appreciate the material? My daughter took AP Psychology just because she was interested in the topic, but I’m sure she will appreciate it even more in a few years. And because of the Newsweek ranking system, she was pressured by her teacher to take the AP exam. She wasn’t interested in taking it — but those who did take the test earned an A for 10% of their class grade just for taking it. She had to take a similar test in the classroom and her 10% came from her actual grade on the test, while the others got A’s simply because they took the test (the teacher won’t know their scores until summer).

    There are plenty of good reasons to make AP classes available, and they are great for some kids, but the whole ranking system has created an AP monster. Our teens don’t need that kind of pressure.


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