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Friday, December 05, 2003



I took AP US History at two different schools.

In the first school, we spent a week talking about how textbooks were bad and how we had to learn to think for ourselves. We were given general questions "What caused the Civil War?" and told to go research historians from different schools of thought. Then we'd come back and have graded discussions about what we'd discovered. At the end of each unit, we'd have an objective test that we never studied for--we had learned everything through our research and discussion. At the same time, we were required to take Honors English, which studied the literature of the period in history that we were studying in the AP class. That was AP done right.

In the second school we studied a textbook and zoomed through and had quizzes every week. I retained virtually nothing. THe only reason I did well on the AP test was the essay question was from an area I'd studied in the first school.

I guess my point is that AP is not evil in and of itself, it's the way uncreative teachers choose to prepare students for it.


Posted on Sun, Jul. 14, 2002
California committee urges dropping Advanced Placement boost


(KRT) - Fueling a national debate over school inequity, a committee overseeing restructuring of the state's public education system is recommending that the University of California drop policies that award extra weight to applicants who took Advanced Placement courses in high school.

AP classes have grown in popularity in the past decade because they boost high school students' chances of getting into elite colleges, earning them grade-point averages of up to 4.5 on a 4.0 scale and enabling them to save thousands of dollars by skipping some introductory college courses.

But increasingly, AP classes have been criticized by disadvantaged students whose schools offer few, if any, of the advanced classes.

A state legislative committee, overseeing an unprecedented reorganization of California's education system from preschool to graduate school, has recommended that extra weight no longer be given to the advanced courses because of the wide variation in AP offerings.

Instead, the Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education wants the state to eliminate the disparities by making across-the-board curriculum improvements at all high schools.

"If you want to level the playing field, you've got to expect more of everybody - not just those taking AP courses," said Charles Ratliff, a consultant working for the committee, which is to forward its report to the legislature in August.

About 19 percent of California public high schools, largely in low-income areas, offer three or fewer AP courses, according to the state Department of Education. About 16 percent offer 21 classes or more.

"We want to make sure all students get the rigor," Ratliff said.

With colleges putting more of a premium on high-level courses, the 47-year-old Advanced Placement Program has grown dramatically in the past 10 years.

So far this year, 1.6 million high school students have taken the exams required to receive college credit, compared with about 600,000 in 1992.

Across the country, students from inner cities and rural communities have complained about the lack of AP courses at their schools. About 40 states as well as Congress have responded by allocating money to train teachers for AP courses and to pay exam fees for low-income students.

The focus on the AP program comes as California education leaders try to determine how to close the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students and boost minority enrollment at the University of California.

The debate over the tools for providing equal access to impoverished minority students intensified in 1996, when voters approved a ballot measure that abolished affirmative action in college admissions as well as hiring and contracting for government.

To restore plummeting minority enrollment in the wake of the law, the University of California introduced a policy of admitting the top 4 percent of students from each high school in the state rather than selecting the best from a pool of candidates. Moreover, university President Richard Atkinson has proposed dropping the SAT as a requirement for admissions, contending that the test is biased against blacks and Hispanics.

But university officials are reluctant to alter their policy on AP courses.

Unlike most other colleges, which rely on GPAs reported by high schools, the University of California recalculates grades based on its own formula, which emphasizes rigorous courses. A GPA deemed by a high school as a 4.0 could be elevated to a 4.5 under the university's standards.

University officials say changing the AP policy could discourage high school students from taking advanced courses, diminishing the quality of applicants.

"Many of us (regents) don't believe students will take AP courses just for the knowledge," said Ward Connerly, a University of California regent who sponsored the anti-affirmative action measure.

Without the incentive, "we're going to see a decline in the number of students taking the (AP) classes," he added. "With the U.S. falling behind other nations (in the academic achievement of students), clearly we need every incentive we can get to encourage our students to excel."

Carla Ferri, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of California, said, "We would look at this recommendation with caution. We need to send a strong message that we value the AP program . . . and we're looking for students who do excellent work."

But civil rights advocates, who filed suit against the state over the AP disparity, and even the company that develops the advanced courses, question the fairness of the weighting system.

"The grade-weighting policy is good and bad," said Lee Jones, vice president of The College Board, the New York-based firm that administers the Advanced Placement Program as well as the SAT.

"It serves as a reward and incentive for taking rigorous courses," he said. "But on the other hand, if you use grade weighting it's unfair if all students don't have access to rigorous academics. Students who don't go to high schools with AP classes are precluded" from receiving the higher grade-point averages.

The state Department of Education has set aside $16.5 million for grants to help 500 high schools with three or fewer AP courses boost their offerings.


Good debate. A couple of questions from a veteran AP instructor: Have AP courses suffered as a result of less qualified students demanding admittance in order to up their college admission chances? This seems to be the case in my course and in some colleagues' courses. SOme may say "just leave them behind," but it is at best a distraction and additionally, not many instructors take much glee from students not passing, enjoying, or being a viable part of the class.
Secondly, does the College Board have an obligation to accomodate "block sacheduling" with a Decedmber testing?
Finally, should grades in the class be linked to performance on the exam?


There is a huge gap between the quality of the math/science APs and all the others, even the language APs. I took 4 or 5 science APs as a high schooler. Our teachers didn't teach to the test, but they did try to make sure that we covered all the necessary material. The APs themselves were pretty straightforward. I had the fortune of going to a magnet school, but for those who did not, I can see how APs are useful in raising the quality of instruction. The content of the exam was quite reasonable, and so having the exam did not detract from learning the material.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the other APs. My high school didn't even offer any of the history APs for credit (one teacher ran an optional American History AP session) b/c the exams were so useless. Most of my peers who took the non-language or science APs basically did so by studying for a week before hand and taking the exam. One could build a reasonable standardized test on this subject, but it is very tricky, and they have not. No, wait, there was an AP lit class, but the AP was considered secondary to the class.

I didn't take the foreign language APs but my impression was that they were half way in-between the two categories. That is, the material was standardized, but not entirely consistent with what might be expected, so good students were often flumoxed when they saw the exam.

For several subjects I ended up taking college level classes or local college classes as a senior, just so that I could get an intro to philosophy or religion in. I wasn't worried that the lack of an AP exam to validate my efforts was going to hinder me.

Much as I am in favor of equity, I don't think it should be achieved by refusing to recognize differences in quality/difficulty at the high school level. I don't think it's a problem that poorly prepared students don't have as good a chance of getting in to Cal as well prepared students. The solution lies in twisting arms at the local level to make sure that students who are capable of more advanced material have the opportunity to take the courses they need. And while that sounds glib, I don't mean it in that way. It's actually a feasible solution.

Under-challenging our high schoolers is a big mistake. I hate to think where I would have ended up if I hadn't been happy and stimulated in school. Now that I'm living in a more typical American setting and I'm seeing what kind of "education" students are getting, I'm shuddering. I have this sneaking suspicion that bored, under-stimulated, under-educated ... well, I might have gotten into trouble along the way. I'm really starting to understand why smart kids become juvenile delinquients.

OK, that was a rambling post. Let's see -- a 2 on an AP English Essay section for me!

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