A questionable track recordBy Grace Forrest and Jasper Scott
The Advanced Placement curriculum is not what it used to be. The visionary program launched in the 1950s has seen a popularity increase of immense proportions, becoming a standard for the American high school—in 2013, a record 33.2% of students took an AP level course.
The original mission was simple: allow high-achieving students to earn college credits before enrollment. Nowadays, the goals have shifted, as it also aims to motivate and push lower-achieving students, ideally increasing graduation rates for a school while saving money and time for students. However, according to critics, the AP program has skewed from its goals has become a misuse of money, along with a waste of time.
The primary concern of most educators with the AP curriculum and its expansion is its results. Many argue that the material taught in the courses, intended to be “college-level,” is inadequate compared to most college classes. Often, instead of giving credit for the course, colleges only allow for the introductory class on a subject to be skipped. Without this foundation, students are actually left behind once in college. Many end up taking the introductory class anyway.
Regardless of these effects, increasing AP program expansions continue. But these expansions come at a cost—with more AP classes, resources such as qualified teachers, classrooms, and money are used up, leaving little for non-AP students. Regular classes are depleted, and APs become the norm. But this push for the general student body to embrace “college” material does not seem to pay off on any level—no increases in high school graduation rates have been documented, whereas, conversely, an increase in the failure rate on the AP exams has been recorded in relation to increased AP classes.
As it stands, the current AP program falls short of many of its goals. While they are credible in allowing ambitious students to expand their knowledge of a subject, they fail to adequately aid their college journeys. For other students, they act as a forced early-immersion into “college” material, with little to no benefit. As for schools, APs are becoming an expanding cost that yields minimal benefits.
Perhaps it is time to review the development of these programs, and weigh the benefits in an already strained public schooling system.
The associated stressBy Rutha Chivate and Amy Wang
Just about every American high school student is familiar with the College Board, whether it be through the PSAT, SAT, SAT II, or through AP courses. Specically, AP classes have now overrun the classic American high school system. Designed to model college curriculums, the AP course is now a staple in the academic lives of 68 percent of students at PHS. And PHS students do markedly better than the average U. S. high school student, with a 88 percent pass rate (score of 3 or higher) compared to the national average of 58 percent in 2016, according to a CollegeBoard report. But the academically driven culture at PHS — where AP exams are used as tokens of self-worth — fosters excessive participation in AP classes to the detriment of the student. With 62 percent of students feeling stressed because of AP, investigation is necessary. Despite the high stress associated with these classes, students still opt for heavy course loads. For example, both of us are taking AP Calculus BC this year, even though we don’t plan on pursuing such high-level mathematics in our futures. For us, Calculus BC was the successive class on the math track we are on, so taking Calculus AB or regular calculus seemed backwards, even though the subject isn’t one we are very passionate about learning. Plus, it meant another AP when others asked how many we were taking. Alas, devoting so much time to a class that we often struggle to keep up with hurts our ability to enjoy other classes that we are more serious about pursuing in the future. The inflexibility of the AP curriculum also contributes to student and teacher stress throughout the school year. Weak areas for the class cannot be supported by increased practice and support time, because of the regimented schedule implicated by the looming May test dates. Additionally, the broadness of AP class subjects, such as AP World History, further negates possibilities for specific and meaningful instruction, compelling teachers to focus only on broad trends and basic ideas without the supporting details. Learning, in its ideal, should be about being challenged and feeling a healthy amount of manageable stress — not about one’s self-confidence in an area. The idea of one major exam assessing your proficiency in a broad subject is a considerable factor of stress. Unlike other high-stake exams like the SAT or ACT, which can be re-taken on multiple test dates throughout the year, AP exams are only administered once annually. This pressure is only exacerbated by the substantial $100 investment devoted for each exam. Ultimately, this all contributes to the mental health epidemic in schools across the nation. Educators, administrators, and policymakers should work together to reform and reconsider tests like the AP exams in order to work toward a less stressful, more engaging form of education.
Advanced, but effective?
A wave of relief washes over you as you finish the final problem on your last AP exam of the year. You lean back in your chair and start to reflect on your school year. But, strangely enough, the more you think, the less you remember. It feels as though all the knowledge you acquired was just for this test. And, with the test done, you can’t help but ask: now what?
That is the simple question all AP students find themselves asking come May 15. But it should not be this way. The end of a test should not signify the end of the learning experience, yet it does. This, in large part, is due to the strict standards of the AP curriculum. While many teachers try to mix in content that they actually think will help their students grow in their understanding of the subject, many are forced to divert resources and time towards teaching exam taking strategies, ripping away valuable learning opportunities and replacing them with test preparation. The PHS motto is “Live to learn, learn to live,” not “Live to learn, learn to do well on your APs.”
Inherently, the idea of any AP course is sound: a college-level class for students who want to push themselves. However, the problem lies in the test: what are the benefits of taking an AP exam? The most common response is to get college credits, however, many colleges have been backtracking on accepting AP credits, with an ever growing number of students coming to colleges having taken exams. What starts as a way for students to pursue more rigorous classes turns into a repetitive studying experience for a test that doesn’t contribute to education and future success.