Why I actually like AP season

pexels-photo-261909.jpegThere are a lot of reasons people hate the AP (Advanced Placement) program.

To start with, the stress of AP testing season, which is upon us. Then the fact that some colleges no longer give credit for passing AP tests, so it feels like wasted money.

Some people hate AP because they don’t believe high school is an appropriate venue for college-level classes. Some say high school classes can’t possibly recreate the college class experience.

Some hate the fact that privileged students have more access to AP programs than disadvantaged students. (I’m with them — I hate that too.) And finally, some people hate what they perceive as outside interference in school curriculum — the same reason they hate Pearson and other testing companies.

I’m not one of the haters, though. I know AP is far from perfect, and we need to make access more equitable, but let’s be honest — it’s one of the few forces driving us to actually provide rigorous high school experiences. Graduation requirements certainly aren’t doing it.

(Caveat: I am an AP grader and also a College Board consultant. I’m not writing this for the College Board, nor will they read it. I sought out these positions because I think AP is valuable — not the other way around.)

So, caveats aside, why do I like AP?

#1 It was great for me. I took 7 AP classes and tests back in the early 1980s, and those classes prepared me for college like nothing else. I felt sorry for my college classmates at Michigan who had to take Calculus I in gigantic lecture halls. I learned it from my high school teacher, Mrs. Duke, who knew her stuff AND cared about me. Same for my introductory bio and chem classes.

#2 It was great for our kids. Both of our sons took a bunch of AP tests, and both of them saved us money on college credits — which is no small thing these days. They also had no trouble moving on to higher-level courses based on their knowledge from high school AP classes.

#3 You might not like the curriculum or the test, but it IS written by a collaboration of college professors and expert high school teachers. These aren’t paid hacks just writing questions for a test bank. They know their stuff — better than I do. And because I trust them to set the right learning targets, I can focus on coaching my students to meet them. (It removes the temptation to water down the curriculum.)

#4 AP teacher workshops are (usually) not a waste of time. Teachers often complain about PD because it seems to focus on the wrong things — technology, grading and differentiation (which no one explains very well) — rather than on how to better teach students in our content area. In AP workshops, I’ve actually learned content and valuable teaching strategies. I’m trying to pay it forward now.

#5 Even if some colleges don’t give credit for AP, many more do, and that’s still motivating to many students. They are more willing to challenge themselves because of that AP score, and that means they build deeper understanding in the process.

I know it’s not a perfect system. I wish AP teachers had as much flexibility with our courses as actual college professors do, so we didn’t have to pack so much into a semester. I wish AP was more like International Baccalaureate, so we could reduce the amount of multiple choice and allow for more nuance.

I wish students were more willing to take challenging non-AP courses, which sometimes get overlooked. And of course, I wish the testing season didn’t cause students stress.

But when it comes to the long list of tests our students take — state tests, common core tests, final exams, ACTs, SATs, and so on — I still think AP tests are the most valuable. And I hope my students crush it next week.

Martha Rush is a teacher, blogger, author and speaker. Visit NeverBore.org or join the NeverBore LLC Facebook group for more information. @MarthaSRush

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