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'I was not allowed to take AP English'

My column on Charles Hebert Flowers High School requiring a 3.0 grade point average to take an Advanced Placement course, then dropping the rule after I asked about it, inspired many people who have been barred from AP and college prep courses to offer their stories. Here are two accounts from people who suffered because of the still widespread and wrongheaded view that only top students should be challenged. Carolyn Elefant is a lawyer in Washington. Evelyn Nolan is a retired teacher from Prince George's County, where Flowers High is located.

From Elefant:

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your column on the challenge of AP classes and your support for permitting all those who want to take these classes to do so.
I graduated from high school in 1981 and was not allowed to take AP English. At that time, the selection criteria was even more random, and though I'd gotten two A's and two B's in 10th grade, my teacher felt that I just wasn't up for it. i argued with the guidance counselor, but she wouldn't let me in either.


Finally, I wrote an article for the school newspaper with a very similar title to yours -- I called it "The Challenge of Learning," and I still remember the opening lines: "Every day, a murder takes place at Livingston High School. By denying admission to AP classes to those students who want to take them, Livingston High School is killing valuable minds." My best friend was editor of the paper, so my piece was published. But nothing ever changed, and I continued with the stigma of exclusion -- well, until I became a published author.
It's completely ridiculous that even in this day and age, many schools would still discourage students who are willing to take a tough class just to learn more.
Carolyn Elefant

And from Nolan:

Bravo for your column on the average student not being able to take the AP classes. My husband and I went to school in Prince George's County in the early '60s. We were tracked, of course, because that was the policy in those days. We were both in Nine F, the dumping ground. It just so happened that our English teacher decided to read us "The Citadel" and "Oliver Twist." I had not been much of a reader until that point. Well, reading those books opened up a whole new world to me.
The next three books I read were written by D.H Lawrence. When I got to high school, I started reading the Russian novels and Shakespeare, all outside of school, because I was below average and not supposed to read anything on that level. The counselor said I could not take academic classes and that I should probably become a waitress when I graduated.
Every year, I signed up for the academic curriculum, and every year, they put me in the general program, which was not supposed to go to college. Every year, I would change the schedule card to academic. I learned that the scheduling office would check the cards one time but never twice. I took some great classes -- comparative literature, world history. I had excellent teachers and had a jolly old time writing term papers, which I would have never gotten to do if I was in the general classes.
I went on to the University of Maryland and became a Prince George's teacher, for 30 years, all with my average grades and test scores. That's why your column brought tears to my eyes. I wish I could tell every educator that a student who does not get high scores on tests and has to work harder than the other students is not dumb.
Evelyn Nolan
P.S. My Nine F husband ended up getting straight A's in his senior year in college and was offered a Fulbright scholarship for graduate school.


Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | October 6, 2010; 12:33 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Carolyn Elefant, I was not allowed to take AP English,, although denied a chance at AP, one becomes lawyer and author, the other a teacher  
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Comments

"Here are two accounts from people who suffered because of the still widespread and wrongheaded view that only top students should be challenged..."
=================

Really, Jay? People "suffered" because they couldn't take AP English? Doesn't that seem like a very strong word for not being allowed to take a desired class, especially when compared to the hardships that some students genuinely face?

Posted by: bermanator34 | October 6, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Oh, good god, Jay. Yes, that's the demographic that everyone is worried about. "Kids who read DH Lawrence and are denied AP English."

Where's your letters from the illiterate Hispanic students spending three years of college in remediation, whining about their teacher not letting them into AP? Where are your letters from the kids who don't know what 6x3 are, but were upset that they couldn't take AP Calculus?

Please. I doubt anyone seriously contends that AP classes should be accessible to anyone who can pass a pre-screening test.

It's the kids who can't pass that test--the ones who aren't writing you letters--that we're discussing. To use letters like these, Jay, is evidence of either dishonesty (which I know you aren't) or a complete failure to understand what is under discussion. I didn't think that was you, but this post makes me wonder.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | October 6, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Cal and Bermanator, I can't fathom what you think you're defending from all these phantom incompetent students. Are you saying AP doesn't matter to Hispanic students because they're all illiterate, anyway? You are mistaken. Who are you, really?

I recently taught AP chemistry for four years in my Title I public high school, and I do know a lot about this. Jay is right, as far as he goes, but read the testimony of these former students more closely. Evelyn was tracked, and that is the worst of it. Yes, children suffer from that, especially english language learners.

I fought with my administrators for years over AP access. Now my district claims to have gone over to Jay's and my position, and at last embraced the College Board's inspirational Equity Initiative. I wish I could say we won, but I have a bad feeling about this. It even makes me suspicious of Jay's motives.

The same administrator who had opposed AP access turned immediately and instituted our new "pre-AP" track - and it starts at the gate to middle school! We now track our low-income and immigrant children with one test, at the end of FIFTH GRADE.

We "invite" high scorers to attend a "pre-AP" middle school, which offers a for-profit proprietary curriculum. All the schools in our district now rely on proprietary curriculae for all their tracks, by the way. So, the kids at each school were secretly screened and sorted. "Uninvited" children are allowed to participate in a lottery for a few token seats. English Language Learners are segregated into a separate middle school. So, it throws the question back at us - should we allow all children to prepare for AP at all, starting in middle school?

Meantime, Jay, Cal is convinced of your honesty, but I am not yet able to reach his conclusion. Based on your history as a charter school booster, I'm worried you've taken this subject up just because you know somebody vending some fake product to exploit the claim of equitable AP access, for my pre-screened future students.

I'd be reassured of your overall honesty if you would take time in your busy schedule to discuss another question I raised to you three weeks ago. You should either disclose, yourself, the Washington Post/Kaplan K12 Corporation's financial interest in for-profit vending to public elementary and secondary schools, or else publish the guest blog you invited me to write.

Posted by: mport84 | October 6, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Cal and Bermanator, I can't fathom what you think you're defending from all these phantom incompetent students. Are you saying AP doesn't matter to Hispanic students because they're all illiterate, anyway? You are mistaken. Who are you, really?

I recently taught AP chemistry for four years in my Title I public high school, and I do know a lot about this. Jay is right, as far as he goes, but read the testimony of these former students more closely. Evelyn was tracked, and that is the worst of it. Yes, children suffer from that, especially english language learners.

I fought with my administrators for years over AP access. Now my district claims to have gone over to Jay's and my position, and at last embraced the College Board's inspirational Equity Initiative. I wish I could say we won, but I have a bad feeling about this. It even makes me suspicious of Jay's motives.

The same administrator who had opposed AP access turned immediately and instituted our new "pre-AP" track - and it starts at the gate to middle school! We now track our low-income and immigrant children with one test, at the end of FIFTH GRADE.

We "invite" high scorers to attend a "pre-AP" middle school, which offers a for-profit proprietary curriculum. All the schools in our district now rely on proprietary curriculae for all their tracks, by the way. So, the kids at each school were secretly screened and sorted. "Uninvited" children are allowed to participate in a lottery for a few token seats. English Language Learners are segregated into a separate middle school. So, it throws the question back at us - should we allow all children to prepare for AP at all, starting in middle school?

Meantime, Jay, Cal is convinced of your honesty, but I am not yet able to reach his conclusion. Based on your history as a charter school booster, I'm worried you've taken this subject up just because you know somebody vending some fake product to exploit the claim of equitable AP access, for my pre-screened future students.

I'd be reassured of your overall honesty if you would take time in your busy schedule to discuss another question I raised to you three weeks ago. You should either disclose, yourself, the Washington Post/Kaplan K12 Corporation's financial interest in for-profit vending to public elementary and secondary schools, or else publish the guest blog you invited me to write.

Posted by: mport84 | October 6, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

In reading Evelyn Nolan's comments, it reminded me of my days in the early 60's attending DC public schools. Tracking was done then as well and many of us were forced into Track 3 (called the dummy class) back then. We were considered too dumb to take a foreign language or tackle in-depth reading materials. Tracking was later ruled discriminatory and the practice ended; however, the damage had been done. Not sure how many of us in the "dummy" class later went on to college although I did. Teachers told our parents that we would never amount to anything, let alone attend college. We were steered towards vocational training. Once a student gets railroaded like that, it's a blessing that one can graduate from high school, let alone go to on college. As the parent of a college student, college prep and AP classes were the norm in high school and it was made clear that no teacher would ever have the final say on whether my child would be eligible to attend a college prep/AP program. Parents have to be diligent and speak up for your children. They are worth it.

Posted by: cricket35 | October 6, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

" Are you saying AP doesn't matter to Hispanic students because they're all illiterate, anyway?"

Oh, please. Try not to be a moron. If I thought all Hispanics were illiterate, I wouldn't use the word as an adjective.

The reason I don't mention white illiterates is not because they don't exist, but because no one is hellbent on pushing white undereducated kids into AP. There are, sadly, thousands of charter schools and inner city comprehensive schools eager to push unqualified blacks and Hispanics into AP. Just check the Challenge Index.

Anyone who opposes tracking has never seen the disaster of heterogeneous classrooms and the profoundly unfair results it brings: namely, kids with bright shiny transcripts that tout college-readiness who end up in remediation. Jay's preferred method, AP for All, is a fraud that cheats the unprepared into thinking they've been educated.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | October 6, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

OK. This column is really too much. I graduated in 1980, and I know there wasn't AP as it exists today. There was the chance to place out of freshmen English or foreign language, but it did not in any way make or break a student going through college. Many of the better colleges did not even recognize the placement test.

Jay, you are simply unwilling to concede that making AP open to everyone, regardless of ability as demonstrated by a student's previous efforts, undermines both the AP courses and the hard work that those hard-working students put in to make the grade.

I also agree with the previous post that we need to bring back tracking. Heterogeneous grouping is desirable in some subject areas, but not in others in which there are clear and distinct differences in levels of ability at different ages. Tracking never meant that a student who wasn't in honors was destined for failure. It was a reasonable attempt by the schools to place students in classes that would challenge, but not overwhelm them.

Posted by: Jennifer88 | October 6, 2010 10:58 PM | Report abuse

I taught AP classes in an urban high school for years, I interviewed prospective kids and accepted virtually everyone, my frustration was the small number of kids who took the AP exam, as soon as they received their college acceptances their interest in school lagged, many told me they only took the course so that it would appear on their transcript ... and I thought it was my superb teaching skills.

I now urge schools to substitute a senior thesis in lieu of AP classes ... everyone likes the idea but it will not "stick" until colleges plsce less emphasis on enrollment and more on AP test results.

Posted by: pjg320 | October 6, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

I apologise for my earlier double post- I got an inscrutible "error" message, so I backed up and posted it again, unnecessarily.

It is hard for me to interpret this apparent wave of pro-tracking sentiment. I know that the for-profit colleges engaged DCI Group to manufacture internet chatter with an orchestrated and adaptable message, and I can generally recognise those: "government schools are monopolies", "lazy students need consequences", "cut funding and restrict admission to community colleges", "excessive government regulation is preventing innovation" and "you can't teach these dysfunctional low-income children/families/communities".This is a new, possibly mutant, strain. Maybe these people are sincere misanthropes.

My district ended the General Track in 2004, and it was one of the reasons I quietly supported the "education reform" drive. There were invisible hands that began moving policy and changing programs in my district at that time, but that one change won my allegiance for two years, whatever other (mounting) abuses of power I saw. Then, the invisible hands attacked my students. My girls were held back from the test. They came to me in tears, to turn in their chemistry texts and be put out of the building against their will, for "failure to make academic progress".

Tracking came back with a will: non-credit for-profit proprietary test-prep "strategies classes", devoid of any intellectual content or rigor, preparing hapless students for nothing in the world but one high-stakes score on a specific for-profit proprietary test they might never even be allowed to take.

My allegiance is to the children I teach, and their families, and their communities. The desperate mental drive for fuel, for intellectual and cognitive development, is palpable and visible to me in the young people I teach - I have to wonder if the world is blind. Every discussion, to me, comes back to that. AP feeds their minds and hearts. Yes, they do have the drive and talent. Let them reach for it.

Posted by: mport84 | October 7, 2010 1:14 AM | Report abuse

"Here are two accounts from people who suffered because of the still widespread and wrongheaded view that only top students should be challenged"

Jay, AP classes are not the only way to challenge students. In fact, if your goal with AP classes is to challenge average students, then you have already decided that top students should /not/ receive a challenge from these classes.

Where else are they supposed to turn to find them? Private tutors? Early admission to college so they can get out of high school before they've wasted too much unproductive time there? Surely you can agree that an education system that forces its brightest students to such measures has failed them, so why this constant (implicit, but still present) argument in favor of just such a scenario?

Posted by: PerpetualDissent | October 7, 2010 2:29 AM | Report abuse

Like most things in life, the privilege to take AP classes needs to be earned. If anyone can take AP classes without being ready, the classes will be less rigorous which defeats the point. Same with behavior - kids screwing around distract my child so we pursued magnet classes where the kids wanted to learn. Education has become a mess of rules and politicos trying to appease the masses. If you call everyone "gifted" it's meaningless. If you don't do any testing or tracking, you won't be able to find the high achievers OR the struggling kids. Every child deserves dynamic caring qualified teachers. Every child should have books to read and a grownup that makes sure they learn and work at school. Then their knowlege will earn them what they seek.

Posted by: bealtaine1 | October 7, 2010 7:20 AM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. Matthews,

I agree that High schools should offer challenging courses that prepare students for college. Since Advanced Placement courses are college level courses this suggest to me that students enrolled in them have mastered or have demonstrated that they can master high school college prep classes and would benefit from the challenges of an AP course.

If a high school student must enroll in an AP or college course to prepare for college this suggest to me that the student’s high school should review the college prep curricula that is being offered. If a student enrolls in an AP course and struggles throughout the year and scores a 1 or a 2 on the final test this suggest to me that the student would have been better served by having been enrolled in a challenging college prep course taught at a level and pace that would permit the student to acquire the knowledge and skills that would enable him/her to succeed at the college level. If you take the position that a high school student must take AP courses to prepare for college should junior high student take high school courses inorder to be properly prepared for high school? What about offering advanced prep courses for kindergartners inorder to prepare them for the challenges of first grade? What about nursery school prep?

Mr. Matthews your unwavering commitment to AP courses and your irrevocable position suggest that you view AP courses as the savior of our struggling education system especially in many urban and rural communities. Are you absolutely sure that all of these AP courses that you are championing offer the highest quality of instruction and curricula to the students enrolled in them? Please remember not all students mature at the same rate therefore high school course offerings should have the level of diversity and quality that will prepare students for the challenges of college which means advanced placement should be one of several options. Lastly, there are millions of students who have performed exceptionally well and never enrolled in an advanced placement course because they were not offered in their schools, the student could not afford the fee, the student did not meet the qualifications for enrollment, or the college prep offering was appropriate for them.

Mudcat Jackson

Posted by: albany | October 7, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

Having been an ‘average’ student in the International Baccalaureate program I saw two types of students: those who wanted to be in the program no matter what, and those whose parents wanted them to be in the program no matter what. If the Student is the person who wants to be in the class then, in most cases, they will add value to the class. If their parent or someone else wants the student to be in a class that they have no interest in then they will likely be a distraction to the rest of the class. I think the only reason to limit access to a class is to ensure that those who attend have the best possible experience- an experience which can only be augmented by driven, interested individuals, even if they don’t have the best grades going in.

Posted by: scamp1 | October 7, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

My middle daugher was put in the "dummy" track. My wife went in and pointed out she had read all the books her sister has been assigned, and her sister was in the gifted track and 3 years older. We were told it was better to get A's in the dummy track than C's in the college-bound courses. After a fight, she was put back in the academic track, graduated from college, got a M.A. and is happy employed by a university. When I was in school I was not permitted to take the N.Y. State Regents scholarship exam so the school could have a 100% pass rate to advertise. But with a degree from an Ivy, it hardly mattered, except for the lost money.

Posted by: funfun881 | October 7, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Tracking is a blunt instrument. I though it was abandoned decades ago.

I grew up overseas in a Foreign Service family. I returned to Washington for 9th grade (in 1966). I had been a voracious reader in two languages since age 7. I was into Orwell then and in the previous year I had read everything he published. I was put in a basic track English class because I had arrived from a foreign country. No one spoke to me or, apparently, knew anything else about me, before that decision was made. The first class consisted of the teacher reading aloud from a dumbed-down version of the Oddysey. My mother, who was a teacher and knew her way around schools, spent a good part of a day getting me out of that. Tracking produced that sort of travesty all the time, and most kids didn't have mothers with the time and the savvy to intervene.

Posted by: msh41 | October 7, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

I too was not allowed to take AP English in high school, for having received a low (but not failing) grade in a mathematics class the previous year. Of course, I (and my parents) asked "What does receiving a low grade in mathematics in a previous year have to do with my ability to succeed in AP English (I had received an A in English class the previous year)?

I took another English class, and then I signed up for the AP English test anyway. I got a 4 on it. Perhaps if I had the preparation of the AP English class, I would have received a 5. Anyway, my college still gave me credit for the 4, so I wasn't that disappointed. But, I should have gone back to the English department head, and shown him my grade on the AP test just to prove to him that he had made a poor decision.

Posted by: AnonymousBE1 | October 7, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Of course, there are online state-certified schools where AP courses are available. Check out Florida Virtual School. If you can't take them at your school, take them somewhere else.

Technology is allowing a shift from teacher/administration-centric curriculum to learner-centric.

Take advantage of it.

Posted by: topwriter | October 7, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Admittedly, it's been a long time ago, but AP used to be about curriculum; my high school's AP Courses were two-year courses, during which you supposedly did two years of high school work and at least a semester of the material you would be covering in most standard freshmant college classes. The honors and college prep classes were more relaxed and concentrated on the material you would need to master to do successful college work once you got there. The general and business levels stressed the kind of English or math or whatever you needed to hold a job as a bookkeeper or secretary or run your plumbing business or whatever.

Of course, now many states have programs in which capable high school students can take classes at a community college for credit; when I was in high school some universities would let outstanding high school students sign up for classes, but my mother found out from a college professor she knew, since my high school only recommended students for things that would bring recognition to the school, like the local symphony's youth orchestra or various seminars for high school science students.

Reading these posts, and sustituting in the public schools, I am beginning to think that now AP means you learn skills you need for college (research, writing, etc.) and the rest of the high school curriculum is designed to keep kids off the streets for a few more years.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | October 7, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

In Prince George's county, the push is to offer either AP English (either Language or Literature) or English 12. What happened to Honors English 12 for students who don't feel they can handle the challenge of another AP class in their schedule? My daughter is taking one AP class and three advanced classes, she didn't feel that she could handle an AP English class in her schedule. I agreed. Fortunately, my daughter's school has fought to offer Honors English 12 in addition to the AP and traditional English classes. Thank you Eleanor Roosevelt HS for meeting the needs of all of your students!

Posted by: mgribben | October 7, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

AP classes are for those who are serious about learning. A 3.0 average may seem unfair, but there isn't time in those classes to cater to the lowest demoninator. If you're not doing well (b average) in the regular courses, why do you think AP will help??
I completely understand boredom in class leading to less than stellar grades, but you've got to prove yourself somehow.
This is a ridiculous article.

Posted by: hebe1 | October 7, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

When I was in the ninth grade, my English teacher would not recommend me (or anyone in my class) for AP English the next year. I was an A student, and I was miffed. To explain why, he read an example of the writing from a student he was recommending, and when I heard it, I felt dumb as a rock. My own writing compared to that student was on the same level as "See Dick run. See Jane run."

People shouldn't be allowed to take AP courses just because they want to.

Posted by: nuzuw | October 7, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone see the irony here, given that today the Post has also highlighted the anxieties of overworked, overwhelmed students as presented in the film Race to Nowhere? My point is that some students are ready and able to meet the challenges of AP classes and the requisite workload and others are not. I maintain that the kids who are stressing out and needing medical assistance are not prepared for the rigors of AP and should not be encouraged to take these classes. Other kids, who are more than ready to work at accelerated levels, neither find AP onerous or overwhelming--they thrive on this level of intellectual stimulation. Educators are afraid to admit that there is a difference between the truly accelerated students who find AP enjoyable and those struggling kids who need to stay up well past midnight to finish their assignments. We do a disservice to both groups when we insist on lumping them all together.

Posted by: lutzena | October 7, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

For mport84, great post.

for PerpetualDissent--opening AP to all does NOT, repeat NOT, lower the level of challenge in the course, if done right. This has been proven time and again in the Northern Va. schools the last ten years. Visit one of them and talk to those teachers. They keep the standard up for the fastest kids, and the average ones have to pick up their game, but learn much more than way than the old way of the "honors" course that had no external standard, so often got dumbed down.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | October 7, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I was in high school in the mid-1980's. I was told that I was "too stupid" for an AP history class. My main weakness was math. I was crushed.
I think that anyone who wants to take the class should be allowed to enroll. To exclude those who are up to the challenge, but have never been challeged will make their own fate.

Posted by: kodonivan | October 7, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I had a fine time in my AP classes in high school (early 90s, PG County). I don't remember the selection criteria to get in - recommendation from previous teachers in the subject? - but I do remember it was practically a given that I got in. I wasn't a straight A student (that would have required me to do homework), but I was consistantly a top performing student in class and on tests. Those AP classes were the most fun I had in school, the only time I actually felt challenged. I took every one I possibly could. Because they were somewhat exclusive and small classes, the teachers could really accelerate the material. In AP European History, my teacher made it as much like a college class as she could, complete with a syllabus, on-our-own text research, and term papers. This was the best prep I could have gotten for college and it was because of the AP classes that a graduated a semester early from college.

Had the AP classes been open to everyone, I think we would have lost something in the mix. Perhaps the selection criteria need not be so arbitrary, but some criteria is necessary to ensure that only students who want to learn are present. Otherwise, what's the point? Make it honors English, not worth college credit.

Posted by: DCCubefarm | October 7, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I think we should remind kids (and a lot of parents) that a student doesn't need to have access to AP classes to learn and challenge herself.

A kid who wants to learn about US history can take a class at a local community college over the summer.

A kid who wants to learn calculus can learn from an MIT professor for free without ever leaving the house. MIT's Opencourseware shares the actual MIT course materials, including lecture notes, problem sets, exams and occasionally video for almost all of their undergraduate courses.

A kid who wants to read classic works of literature can buy them from a used bookstore on the cheap. If you need help understanding them, hire a grad student to tutor you. Or join a book club. If you can't find a book club, you could join one online.

Real learners find a way to learn. I run a college admissions counseling company and I've never known a kid who was genuinely curious about a subject or idea who then abandoned the interest because she wasn't allowed into the AP course to study it.

Posted by: Collegewise | October 7, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

"Early admission to college so they can get out of high school before they've wasted too much unproductive time there? "

Yup. That's exactly what my kid did: left his PG County public school (Roosevelt; science and tech program) after 10th grade to attend college. And some of his time in high school was still wasted.

I'm all for challenging kids in school. I don't buy the claim that open enrollment for AP courses doesn't have a impact on the level of challenge in the courses. If that were true, all the kids would be getting 4s and 5s on the exams; there wouldn't be scores of them getting 1s and 2s. Yet there are.

The average kids get challenged. The gifted kids get bored. But who cares about the gifted kids?

Not those who advocate open enrollment.

Posted by: owlice | October 7, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I was denied entry to gifted English in the ninth grade even though I had a stellar academic record from middle school. I had to take some kind of subjective test, and despite all my pleadings, they wouldn't let me in. I was taking gifted courses for all my other subjects. I went on to take all AP classes, graduated first in my class, and graduated with honors from college, with a double major (one in English). I think the main point is that teachers form an idea about a student and don't care about that student's desire/motivation/ambition. They just look at a number or a score and make a final decision based on that. Kids are pushed aside for not being "smart" enough because they cannot score a number on a test. Let's give kids a chance to prove themselves, instead of writing them off for not being geniuses off the bat. I was not scarred for life obviously by being denied one class, but it is just an example of how children are shifted into groups of smart, average, and below average. I was considered average and no one would take me seriously until I showed them how hard I would work for what I wanted.

Posted by: sarenina | October 7, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Sigh! As an undergraduate adviser at a State University, I recall a chemistry adviser and myself (biology,pre-med.,etc) advising an incoming sophomore from another university to enroll in our STANDARD organic chemistry course. He had had a full year of organic at his first university, but we had learned from MANY many transfers into our school that that particular school was quite weak in sciences.

The young man who had made "A's" in both courses insisted on enrolling in our "honors" organic course. Three weeks into the course he transferred out of the honors class, but it involved a "W" for withdrawal and consequently, put him another semester behind.

My Point: Advanced placement is something that should be approached carefully BY STUDENTS and ADVISERS.
It can do harm if the student doesn't realize that he or she is not up to it, OR if the ADVISER is not a person of wisdom who is rigidly governed by the dots and dashes of the University Catalog (thus holding a competent student back).

In the case I mentioned, the student was extremely confident, but OUR careful persuasion failed. In That Case (and most others) WE, the advisers, were right.

Posted by: lufrank1 | October 7, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I don't actually know when the tracking started. I grew up in a wealthy DC suburb and was well behaved, but, maybe a little dreamy in class. When I was accidently told to take a gifted and talented class, I was casually told "you are not supposed to be here" but let to sit for it anyway.

Later, when I got As, Bs, and B+s in all social studies classes, I had to continue to "ask" to be put in advanced reading/writing/social studies classes.

In high school, after getting B's in Middle School Honors English, I was tracked out of the honors class, into the class with the kids who refused to pay attention or behave.

I was also kept out of honors language classes, despite B's and A's.

I had to beg to get back into honors classes, and I eventually did. But never "tracked" to AP French or AP English.

Lo and behold, AP classes at my high school were open to all and I got A's, B's, and 4's on the AP tests, earning me the college credit I used to graduate from the States flagship University with a 3.5 GPA.

I continued to earn a Masters degree, with MERIT from the London School of Economics.

Who were those people who kept me out of honors classes? And kept me from building my transcript in a way that would have gotten me into more prestigious schools? Or gotten me more scholarships? I'm not a hardship case, but, who should have held me back from achieving when I wanted to, and clearly could given the chance to make my own decisions.

NO ONE should be kept out of a G & T class, honors class, AP class, advanced class of any sort if they are making B's and above and not causing behavioral problems. Everyone should have a chance to take AP classes, the material is interesting and the fact that they are run like college classes - high amounts of reading, self teaching and longer papers, adapts well to learning styles that don't mesh with constant busy work and useless homework.

Posted by: rrbitcgirl | October 7, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I went to a high school in Texas in the mid 1970s. I was a very early reader as was everyone in my family. I was not permitted to take Honors English because the teacher wanted to have someone in her regular English class who could actually learn.

Posted by: Arggg | October 7, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

hmm, maybe I'm just too old here, but isn't the point of AP classes to teach to a test so that students can transfer credit towards the GERs at their chosen University?

Letting any kid who wants to take the AP class hurts this objective, how?

If a kid self-selects that they want to put the effort in, why should anyone stop them?

Posted by: lynn27 | October 7, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Gee, I wish we lived in a society that had unlimited resources. Unfortunately, we don't.

Policies based on historical performance, resource availability, and other factors are implemented every day in companies and public institutions like schools. Human beings, a flawed species, do their best to make the right policy. The process is not always perfect.

But there is one thing surer than death and taxes in today's society: pick out a policy, and within a week or so, the Post can scare up one or two people for whom the policy represented "discrimination" of "lack of fairness."

If we had unlimited teachers and unlimited budgets, OF COURSE it would make sense to expose almost everyone to AP courses. But we don't have that situation. Reasonable screening must be done. The criteria can be adjusted if its found that the current criteria cause WIDESPREAD discrimination and lack of opportunity.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | October 7, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I graduated from high school in 1971 and even though they were not called AP classes, AP classes existed in the form of electives, i.e, Algebra 2, Geometry,Trigonometry, Russian History, Sociology, Psychology, Physics, Advanced Composition, etc. I was an unchallenged, uninterested C student until I managed to talk my way into the "advanced classes". My Cs went to B+ and A and my attitude toward school and learning took a 180. I believe many students should at least be given a chance to find out if they can excel.

Posted by: jch1953 | October 7, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The key to open enrollment is permitting failure. Are we willing to tolerate that some marginal kids will flunk AP Calculus if we allow them to take it? If we are, then we can do open enrollment and allow the chips to fall where they may. But if teachers will be pressured to slow down for the slower kids, from a fear that a parent will complain or that the kid will be stigmatized by failure, then we need to screen students to avoid the likelihood that the class would otherwise be dumbed down. Is the district really willing to tolerate AP classes giving out Ds and Fs to juniors and seniors who take the challenge and fall short? The parents are going to scream bloody murder that the school has destroyed their kid's chance to go to a good college. That is the reality of school politics. In a perfect world, open enrollment would be desirable. In the real world, I am not sure which is best. But it is as much an empirical question as a theoretical or political one.

Posted by: taxguru | October 7, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I think that anyone who wants to take the class should be allowed to enroll. To exclude those who are up to the challenge, but have never been challeged will make their own fate.

Posted by: kodonivan
..................
How about a simply solution?

Admission to any AP course is dependent upon a standardized test given to measure reading comprehension. The reading scores on the SAT or PSAT could be used.

Since these course are supposed to be learn on your own these students better be able to read and understand totally on their own the material they are given. This goes for almost every subject except foreign languages. The study of mathematics is heavily dependent upon reading on your own.

Highest scores get the limited number of the seats in the class.

This is fair for all those that think that they should have a chance to take the course while it excludes the ones that will not be able to work on their own.

The reality is that a big part of college is not more instruction time in class but reading and learning on your own.

In sports in high school everyone is allowed to try out for the team. The same idea should be used for these courses with the idea that if you not have the characteristics needed you do not get onto the team.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 7, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

The dirty secret is that any parent with the know how (primarily middle-class parents) can get their child into AP, whatever that child's test scores are. Really, the entrance qualifications for AP are just a way for middle and upper-middle class parents to bar other children from the obtaining the same opportunities that their own children have.

Posted by: ChicagoIllinois | October 7, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Re: the response by Bsallamack regarding using standardized test scores to place kids in AP, I highly disagree. First of all the SAT/PSAT is a JOKE. Secondly, those aren't even taken by a high school student until 11th or 12th grade. And just what do these tests prove? Nothing. I worked for ETS...it is a sham.
I still believe that those who want to attempt AP should be allowed. One problem in the Cali public high schools is that the teachers of AP are not well schooled themselves in their subject matter. The AP Euro history teacher in my local public high school in San Diego has her B.A. in liberal arts and the other classes she teaches are health education. She really needs to have a master's degree in history, not a liberal arts bachelor's degree.
As for standardized tests, my child attends Catholic school and they don't do these tests. The closest thing to a standardized test is the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which is used to do curriculum planning.
I have noted that the Catholic high schools where I live, require their teachers to have a master's in the subject matter to be qualified to teach AP. Subject matter knowledge is key in correctly teaching AP, in fact I think it is far more important that to have a state issued teaching credential.
I doubt the AP issue will ever be resolved. I do know that my daughter will have the opportunity for AP that I didn't have because she will be in a higher quality high school that I attended.

Posted by: kodonivan | October 8, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

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