Saturday, June 6, 2015

Are AP Classes Worth It?

Both of my children are in high school and have taken or are currently taken Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

I used to not give AP classes much thought.  Now, they have become the bane of my existence.

Having watched my children go through several AP level classes and witnessed their struggles and celebrations, a few thoughts come to mind about AP classes:

1.  If students are being taught college level classes in high school, what skills are they missing out on from their high school level classes that they are not taking?  My own children have struggled with the writing portion of their AP classes.  They are expected to write at a higher level -- but no one has ever taught them how to do this.  These skills are taught in the high school level classes, which AP students miss.  How will this affect them when they get to college?  Are we creating a learning gap?

2.  Many teachers of AP classes expect the students to be able to perform at a college level -- but they are not college students.  Readiness is a huge factor.  We all know from our own students that some kids are just not "ready" for the material we present so it takes them longer until they understand.  This time can come at a high price.

3.  I wonder...when students get to college and pass out of entry level classes because of their AP scores, does this put them at a disadvantage in their higher level college courses?  For example, if a student passes out of Biology I and enters college at Biology II, do they struggle with Biology II at all?  If so, this could have a monetary consequence.

4.  Are AP courses the ultimate "teaching to the test?"  AP exams are given in the spring.  The entire year is spent preparing students for a passing score on the test.  After the exam is given, some teachers choose to essentially stop teaching for the year.  Movies are shown.  Games are played.  Parties are thrown.  Learning has stopped.

5.  Does AP credit actually help students graduate college earlier?

This past year, my son had an absolutely horrible experience in his AP Calculus class.  His teacher, who was in her final year before retirement, did very little teaching.  Students were left to pretty much learn Calculus on their own.  When my son was planning his schedule for next year, he wanted to take the next AP Calculus course.  However, with his teacher from this year retiring, the school found themselves without a teacher for that course.  Their solution -- hire back the retiring teacher to teach only that one AP Calculus course.

I expressed my frustrations and concerns to the school principal.  Why would the school hire back a teacher who was so terrible that she made the entire school year miserable for her students and their families?  The principal's response:  "Because she has demonstrated that she can get students to pass the AP exam at a level that puts us above the state's average."


Am I totally missing the boat here?  Are you a high school AP teacher who could share some insight with me?  Is this problem just exclusive to my own children's high school?  As we look toward courses for next year, I am inclined to tell my kids to pass on the AP classes.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.