It is no secret, to many who know me, my outright disdain for the Advanced Placement program. It’s funny, too, because at one point the College Board’s governmental affairs office in Albany offered me a paid internship that I strongly considered taking. I had challenged the director on the AP program, and he liked my perspective, despite his disagreement. I ultimately couldn’t take the job, as my conscience would have gotten the better of me.
Anyhow, what has piqued this conversation yet again is an article in the Times Union discussing how The College Board lost a number of AP exams from Colonie High School. As you can see from the article, this sort of careless mismanagement of paper is not uncommon for this company. I’ve heard horror stories from friends who are guidance counselors that deal with the central offices misplacing various paperwork of students. This, obviously, is more egregious than most cases, but is nonetheless pretty horrific.
Yet, regardless, there are still a number of kids who too – and “passed” – the AP Biology exam. Many of these kids will be granted credit for this at the schools they later attend. Many will also be granted nothing. Because, what they glaze over when registering for these classes – if they even tell you at all – is that many colleges will not accept these credits. What they DON’T tell you is, the colleges that do accept these credits accept them for junk and/or remedial classes that one would not need to take anyway. For example, when I was attending, SUNY Oswego would offer up to 6 credits for AP English – 3 for English 101, 3 for English 102. English 101 was remedial, and was not required for the large majority of students. English 102 was a basic requirement, however if one was accepted into the Honors Program, you were exempted in favor of English 204, the more rigerous version of 102. If one was not accepted into the Honors Program, there was an examination offered at orientation to new students. If you passed, you were exempt from the requirement. Surely anyone who could potentially take AP English would be able to pass this exam. So, you essentially get 6 junk credits. That is, you got 6 junk credits if you got a “5” on the AP exam. If you got a “3” on the exam (regardless of your overall grade in the class), you got nada.
And this is my problem with the program. The College Board has found a way to market this program as this great way for overachievers to “save time” once they get to college by getting rid of gen eds so they’re free to take “other classes,” or, if they’re exceptionally savvy, graduate early. However, a truly savvy overachiever who wants to graduate early can do so without the aid (or, for that matter, the hassle) of AP credits. Parents like it, because they think their kids will save money and time (they won’t); administrators like it, because it makes their schools “look good” if they have a lot of AP classes; college admissions offices like it, because it gives them a standardized curriculum in which to rate applicants (much like the SAT program, also run by the College Board – noticing a pattern?); and teachers like it because they can both sound superior by teaching an AP class, while not actually having to develop any curriculum themselves.
I remember being in “honors” classes in high school (that were not AP classes), that were not really any different than the regular “regents” level, except that they were “harder.” Not that the curriculum was more challenging, mind you, but that we were simply graded on a different scale, and given more work. Not DIFFERENT work, just more of the same. It was completely inane. It was right around then that AP started to catch on, and they latched onto it with great enthusiasm. Yes, the curriculum was different and more challenging, and there was that canned test that the teachers could model their classes after. Another class where talented students were taught how to take – and pass – exams, but not actually challeged or taught how to think. This is not to say that all teachers are like this – there are plenty of AP classes taught by phenomenal teachers. However, these teachers – and these classes – are not phenomenal because it’s AP.
Aren’t we doing a disservice to our youth by offering ways for students to “test out” of general liberal arts curriculum? College classes are different from high school classes. I don’t want to say they’re necessarily harder, particularly at the lower level, but they are different. College professors teach differently than high school teachers. High school is regimented and structured, by design, and to an extent it should be. College classes, though structured to an extent, offer a much different learning atmosphere. This atmosphere is what AP purports to mimic, but it doesn’t. They’re just high school classes for smart kids that maybe, if you’re lucky, a college will award you junk credits for. But you’re fooling yourself if you think that you’re being given some sort of peek into “the college experience.” In truth, it’s nothing like any college class you will take, and most professors find the program to be insulting and worthless. Not to mention the fact, perhaps you’re doing yourself a disservice by electing to “test out” of these entry level classes. For example, one of the best classes I took in college was a Western Civilization class – one that might have been “covered” had I taken and passed the AP European History test. I had a fantastic professor – Dr. Johanna Moyer, who no longer teaches at Oswego – who encouraged her students to think and present new ideas, and challenged us to challenge her. I remember the class fondly as not being difficult, but being interesting and stimulating. I didn’t learn anything new about Western Civilization, but I did learn some of the core skills that I took with me throughout my college career. I easily got an A, but I did so because I wanted to do the work and challenge myself. Good gen ed liberal arts classes will do that to a student, and far too many of the students who will appreciate those classes are being fed a line that AP is the Way to Go, and, indirectly, that liberal arts gen eds are a waste of your life. No, no. In the words of Dr. Moyer, “AP is a waste of your life.”