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Would Schools Be Better Off If Fewer or More Students Took AP Tests?

A little while ago, Jay called for schools to allow more students to take Advanced Placement tests. The column has spurred an ongoing conversation between Jay and the Assorted Stuff blog.

Here's Assorted Stuff's latest post (with two minor edits):

In to Class Struggle Jay Mathews responds to the Fordham survey of 1024 AP teachers...It’s no surprise that he views the results differently than I did.

Basically he uses the column to restate his belief that large numbers of high school students, if not most, should be encouraged to enroll in AP classes. The more the better.

Mathews also finds support in the survey for that position despite the fact that a majority of AP teachers said “Only students who can handle the material should take AP courses” and that “it would improve their AP programs if they did more screening to make sure students were ready”.

In a comment to my take on the Fordham survey, he took exception to the idea that pushing students into classes for which they had little or no interest might be detrimental to both them and the students who did choose to be there.

"It seems to me anything that gets them into an AP or IB course should be applauded. Once they are there, a great teacher can introduce them to the intellectual thrills, but to expect 16 year old Americans to be acting like Socrates’ students, burning with a desire for learning, is just naive. Indeed, having reached the ripe age of 64, I don’t recall me or my friends actively seeking intellectual sustenance at any stage of our lives."

He also had something to say about my view that the extreme emphasis on AP classes further locks our educational system into the idea that all students should go to college, offering them no choice in their path after graduation.

"Oh, and on the why does everybody have to go to college issue, everybody doesn’t. But I don’t think either of us want to leave the decision as to what they are going to do after high school up to 15 year olds who are two or three years away from graduating, and don’t really know themselves, or the choices ahead of them very well."

Certainly Mathews is right that we shouldn’t leave decisions like attempting college-level work or whether to attend college entirely to 15 year olds.

However, leaving students completely out of the process of deciding how to use their talents and passions is both wrong and detrimental to their futures.

We should be offering high school students more educational options, not fewer, and not assume that the only way to enrich their learning is by way of the narrow, university-focused program created by the College Board.

By Washington Post Editors  | May 20, 2009; 2:23 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Advanced Placement Tests, high school  
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I'm not sure where I stand on this, so I am following the dialogue. This is a worthy debate.

Posted by: pittypatt | May 21, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I have had several exchanges with the director of the College Board's AP program, Trevor Packer re. this issue. He has given me permission to quote him.

"But other schools that have embraced open access should probably have focused on building a more effective pipeline rather than on open access. I was pleased to see that the Fordham report picked up on an important change to our equity policy, which is that access should be provided to prepared and motivated students, not all students. All students to (sic) deserve such preparation and investment in their pre-AP years, but that’s very different from saying that all students should be placed in AP right now, given current mixed levels of readiness/preparation/motivation. A simplistic, but perhaps not too inaccurate, statement of the problem might be that many schools that should be providing open access, given the level of readiness among their student population, are not, whereas many schools that probably should not be providing open access are."

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | May 23, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

There's a middle ground here that seems to be being ignored. First, though, I'd like to second Samclare's suggestion that AP classes should be merged with non-AP classes (and teachers) for a few weeks of the year. Both groups would learn from the other.

AP has a curriculum that "do it yourself" classes, unless taught by truly excellent teachers, simply lack. The compromise is to offer two levels of AP class. Level 1 would be reserved for students who predicted to be able to score 4 or higher on the corresponding AP test. Level 1A would be for all other students, but might involve slightly less rigor. BTW, great teachers like PatrickMattimore should be required to teach both levels.

Posted by: mct210 | May 23, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

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