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.


  1. I'm not sure about the AP teacher issue,but here's my take on the other issues you brought up. I have a child that is a rising senior at Wofford College. He took many AP classes. What the AP classes did for him - the writing wasn't an issue and I don't think would be at 99% of colleges because most schools make freshman take the writing seminar which teaches them how to write the way they want them to at that college. No one can get out of this, even is you take AP classes and score 5/5. Taking AP classes might allow your child to get out of some 100 level classes but that's about it. It your child takes multiple AP classes and does well on the tests, then it might allow your child to come in at a sophomore level, which won't do much until choosing classes for spring semester - if your child has enough credits to be a sophomore, then they can choose their classes when sophomores choose and they might be able to choose rooming for their next year with the class ahead ( this is what happened with my son). Finally, a student can't usually graduate early even thought they have enough credits because most schools have interims or January terms and a student has to have 4 terms of these in order to graduate.
    So, my take is that it certainly doesn't hurt to take AP classes, but they're not going to get you out of any required classes or make it so you can graduate early.
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  2. My husband taught AP classes and he says that in his opinion the main reason for taking an AP class is for college entrance. In essence, successful completion of AP courses shows the college of your choice that you are capable of higher level learning and can complete rigorous course work. So it's a way to look better on the college application and if your son is wanting to go to a school that is exceptionally difficult to get into, then this will give me an edge in gaining that acceptance. Additionally, he says he not known anyone who finished earlier due to AP courses. Hope this helps!


  3. Your questions are legitimate, Jennifer, and worth asking. All three of my children took AP classes, and each of them earned some advanced credit in college. Although they all took a number of AP classes, they only chose (with our blessing) to sit for some of the exams. I figured that if they didn't take the exam and ended up taking a similar class in college, that would give them a little breathing room, since some of the material would be familiar.
    Unlike the other two comments, however, I did have one child graduate a semester early. She wanted to follow up a semester abroad with a summer intensive in that same country. We couldn't afford for her to do that in addition to another full year. She negotiated with us to graduate a semester early, the summer intensive plus her AP credits allowed her to do that.
    So I would say, have your son take the classes he feels strongly about. AP Calculus, taught by this teacher, might not be one of them? Just my thoughts....

  4. Thanks for writing this post Jennifer! My daughter will be taking AP classes in the fall, and will eventually graduate with the new AP Capstone diploma. Our feeling were that the higher level classes would help her to gain more critical thinking skills, and hopefully the AP seminar and AP research class she will have to take will help give her the writing skills. Otherwise, I know I will be doing a lot of critical teaching in this area myself! We have always felt that colleges look at the courseload and that AP has more rigor. If the college accepts the credit, great, it will lighten her load if she ends up playing softball.. which is her goal. We have known students who have graduated a semester early from college due to AP credits, so I think that depends on the college. Sorry to hear about that calculus teacher, you would think you would get the best of the best at that level.
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