Jay on the Web: Is AP the Only Way to Challenge Students?
Every year, Jay Mathews compiles The Challenge Index, a ranking of schools based on a simple formula - the number of AP, IB, and other college-level tests given out at any given high school divided by the total number of graduating seniors from that school year. The index is not meant to be comprehensive but to give parents, teachers, and students an idea of how much a high school challenges its students.
This week, the blog Schools Matter featured an essay by user teacherken calling foul on Jay's index. Teacherken, who says he is a high school AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher and actually graded AP tests this year, makes a case against The Challenge Index, arguing that schools challenge students in many more ways than just through AP and IB tests:
One can certainly argue for students being challenged. I do not believe an Advanced Placement course is the only way to accomplish that. In fact, I have found teaching AP to 10th graders has in some ways restricted my ability to challenge my students as much as I did when I taught the course to 9th graders, and did not have to worry about "coverage" - the amount of material my students had to learn to be prepared for what might appear on the AP exam. To give just one example, there is no defined universe of Supreme Court cases that could appear. I cover in some form or other almost 100. Yet this is not a course in legal history or in the Supreme Court.
Mathews does not currently include cross-registered courses in the calculation of his index. We have students who run out of the math, including Calculus B/C, sometimes by their sophomore year, often by the junior year. This is one case where we offer courses through cross registration with local universities. We have a man from Catholic U who teaches Calculus III and Differential equations. These course do not get a weighted GPA, nor do they count as part of the Challenge Index. Thus even though we are definitely challenging these students, the Index gives us no credit for doing so…
I am not opposed to Advanced Placement. I would not continue to teach my three sections, which next year may contain over 100 students, if I did not find value in the program. I know that some students sign up for the course for the weighted grade. Others do hope to receive the college credit. And a few sign up because they want me as a teacher, particular those who are younger siblings of students I have previously taught - although in a few cases that decision is made by the parent rather than the student. I always have some students who really are not prepared to do the work required. Still, I believe that I am able to stretch the vast majority of my students, and I always especially enjoy those who stretch me as a teacher - that helps keep me fresh. Insofar as I am challenging my students, Mathews is right about his emphasis on AP, although I believe I could challenge them even absent the AP designation…
I do hope we do not continue down the path of our current obsession, believing that more AP is inevitably better. The quality of the instruction is not necessarily better nor more challenging merely because the course has an AP designation - after all, one can have the most wonderful syllabus and still not be able to communicate its contents to the students, nor to engage the students in the process of learning.
And I wish, almost certainly futilely, that we would stop distorting the meaning of AP by using it as a means of 'ranking' schools.
You can read teacherken's full entry here.
| June 24, 2009; 10:32 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: AP, The Challenge Index
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