Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A new twist on AP classes

Schools around the country that make a "top 10" or "top 100" schools list generally make that list based on how many Advanced Placement courses they offer, or if they have an IB program, which is basically AP courses with an added writing element. A classic example of this is the fact that Lakewood High School often makes Colorado's Top 10 schools list.

Interestingly, not many parents really understand what AP is. Most parents believe AP courses to be a course with a "higher standard" or "honors level" and ask, "how many AP courses does your school have?" In the spirit of parental education, here you go:

AP courses were originally designed and written by college professors to be the equivalent of freshmen college courses. Therefore, if a student scored well enough on the AP exam, he/she would receive college credit for the course.

This has snowballed into the AP Collegeboard creating AP courses for every subject under the sun. In the rush to be considered "high-level," public high schools now offer every AP course they can. But having more AP classes does not necessarily mean that a student is "learning more" or receiving a better education. In fact, critics suggest that AP curriculum, while extensive, is extremely shallow. This combined with the fact that the courses are "taught to the test," means that AP courses are extremely rigid and rarely allow for any deviation from the course outline.

Like most things in education, the pendulum is starting to swing back. Many east coast private schools and other non-public schools are now advocating an "AP-free" curriculum. If you don't believe me, check out http://www.excellencewithoutap.org/Index.html. They are doing this because it makes them "different from the public schools," and the harsh truth is this: colleges don't care if a transcript is full of AP classes or not. The best colleges will be looking for things that make a transcript "special or different." Right now, that's not AP courses because all the big public schools are doing it.