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Jay's quick response to Valerie before he takes his afternoon nap

Dear Valerie,

I stand corrected. We geezers get confused easily. Thanks for forgiving my failure to understand who was being forgiven.

Before I recharge my batteries after this challenging exchange, I have just one complaint about one paragraph in your response.

You said:
"What I've heard high school educators complain about is that not all students are prepared to do college level work in high school. Many are; many aren't. But there is pressure to get more kids into these classes, whether they are up to it or not."

One of the purposes of rating high schools by AP participation (and AP test success--we also indicate that on the list) is to show that similar schools, with similar numbers of ill-prepared students, can have VERY different ideas about whether those kids are up to overcoming their disadvantages.

In most cases, when you study the data carefully, you discover that those schools that thought good teaching could get kids up to speed, and welcomed them into AP, were right. Many more of their students, whatever their perceived deficiencies, passed the AP tests than did kids at the more cautious schools.

Most of the time when I have asked AP-averse educators what evidence they have that their kids are not up to it, they don't have much to show me. They are relying on their instincts, not always the best indicator when dealing with high school students who often have lots of hidden potential. We have data showing that twice as many students are ready for AP, based on their PSAT scores, than are allowed to take those courses and tests.

Educators who say their kids aren't up to it often haven't looked at data like that, at least in my experience. So if someone tells you their kids aren't ready, ask them how they know. Or just wait and see what happens at the school up the road that has more faith in what their teachers can do.

Yours truly,

By Jay Mathews  | November 5, 2009; 3:54 PM ET
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I have always argued that AP is not the be-all end-all for every student. In some respects, it is also a paradox. Some AP classes like Human Geography are usually taken by 9th grade students and here in Korea, at our school, we offer it as an 8th grade class. We also do that for AP Psychology. English Lit, on the other hand, is an 11th grade class, and mostly we offer the skills clases later in the curriculum than the content-based classes.

Three-quarters of all of our AP classes are also taken as 3-month prep classes for students using the most popular commerical study guides. Most students who can take the class probably don't need the class and can do it in three months, even less with one of the popular books, such as Barron's or 5 Steps to a 5, etc.

For students who truly want the clas but aren't really ready for it, I don't want them getting anything less than a 3, as I can show them how to write an essay for any question that comes up in AP English, resulting in at least a 3. So in that respect, it can be "conquered" in the same way that the SAT can be conquered by any known available course or class that guarantee to raise scores by such-and-such.

Also, AP classes are no longer the zenith of our curriculum, and haven't been for a long time. We offer in the 12th grade what I consider as more fulfilling classes, with no restrictions as to the multiple-choice/3 essay exam structure. I also assist students taking on-line classes from either Harvard's Extension School, which I personally feel is far more rigorous than an AP class, or through another school such as Johns Hopkins, UC Berkley, or Stanford.

I feel that AP has its place, but not for everyone. Some need it, some don't. Some should take it, some should not. A student's overall needs should be taken into account rather than blindly placing them into AP just to have them take it.

Posted by: ericpollock | November 6, 2009 7:31 AM | Report abuse

For what it's worth, I think the Washington Post is wise to allow us to read a variety work by columnists who focus on education. I personally prefer Jay's work, but I know most of my friends prefer Valerie's. At least we have options. I find Valerie's to be a repeat of issues I've heard over and over for years; my friends think those issues are worth talking about forever I guess.

Also, no matter what anyone says, Jay's work alone isn't the cause for high school competition in the region. We can chop this up in too many ways to focus on one person's knife.

Posted by: doglover6 | November 10, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

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