Sunday, July 23, 2017

Unprepared For Advanced Placement

I don't think unprepared students should take AP classes.

I've said that many times before on this blog, and I'm not changing my mind today.  It just doesn't make sense to.  I guess I've been called worse than "elitist", but whatever.  My position is the logical one, emotional wailing notwithstanding.

The "A" in AP means "advanced".  Why put non-advanced students in such a class?  To "expose" them to material?  We in education aren't supposed to be in the business of "exposing" students to material, we're in the business of teaching students the material.  Putting unprepared students into any class will create the following issues to varying degrees:  the student will struggle unnecessarily and not learn as much as they could in a course more suited to their level, and/or the course content will be watered down (for the student's GPA benefit as well as the teacher's sanity).

This isn't to say that no unprepared student can never succeed in an AP class, let's not make up silly arguments here.  It shouldn't be difficult to understand, though, that a student that is "unprepared" will not, in general, do as well as a student who is "prepared".  That's kind of built into the definitions of the two words.

Yet, the "AP for all" push continues unabated, with expected results:
High school students are flocking to Advanced Placement classes in an attempt to earn credits for college, boost their grade-point average and look good on university applications.

But are all students ready for the college-level coursework?

Students at the eight schools in the Sacramento region that fared worst on AP tests failed to score high enough to earn college credit on at least 75 percent of exams in 2015-16. That includes 3,375 tests taken at Florin, Valley, Highlands, Foothill, Natomas, Rosemont, Inderkum and Grant high schools.

Almost half of the scores at those schools were 1s – the lowest score possible.

Officials speaking for the lowest-performing schools said test results shouldn’t be the only measure of AP success. They said the classes expose students to college-level material and show them what is expected after they graduate.

“You want kids taking advanced classes,” said Jim Sanders, spokesman for Natomas Unified School District, which includes Natomas and Inderkum high schools. “It helps better prepare them for college and career.”

Even if passage rates are low at some campuses, AP courses still allow a handful of high-achievers to obtain college credit, said Lori Grace, an assistant superintendent at Twin Rivers Unified, where three of its four high schools – Highlands, Foothill and Grant – had passage rates of 25 percent or lower. Grace said that schools are enrolling more students in AP courses each year.
The high school I attended is on that list of 8 schools.  When I went there, there were no AP classes.  We had three levels of English for each grade (the top was called "college prep"), and math classes up to trigonometry.  My senior year, six of us were ready to take Calculus.  We had to go to the local community college to take it.

Too many students take AP classes just for the GPA bump.  I don't understand the reasoning, though, as many colleges ask for "unweighted" GPA's.  In fact, our district's transcripts list more than a couple different GPA's, so what's the point?  Colleges and universities aren't fooled by your 4.3 weighted GPA.  They know exactly how many A's and B's you received, and in what courses.

I've kind of rambled away from my thesis, which is this:  the students at the schools listed above weren't done any favors by taking AP courses.  The schools could have used those AP class periods to shore up obvious student math weaknesses instead of offering AP courses for which students clearly weren't prepared.

And we all know why the schools offer such courses, and why there's a push to allow anyone to take AP classes even in schools with a viable AP-capable population--because AP enrollment is seen as a feather in a school or district's cap.  Much like a diploma, though, the value of that feather is degraded by low standards and poor performance.

Read more here:


Pseudotsuga said...

Back in the 80s when I graduated from high school, AP classes were exactly that: Advanced Placement classes that advanced students (meaning high GPA in the subject) were able to take. No C students in that AP English class-- you had to have A grades before you could pass the gate-keepers.
The current mess is part of the push to call the exceptional the norm: everybody is a Valedictorian! Everybody can take AP classes! Everybody goes to college!
As you point out, there is a HUGE difference between AP enrollment numbers (which the school districts love to count as objective data) and AP test scores. If you got a 1 on the test, you either test VERY badly, had a VERY bad day, or maybe, perhaps, you just might not have had any business being in that class.
(Disclaimer -- I got a 5 on my AP English test, and skipped directly to 2nd year English classes in college. I didn't take AP Calculus or Physics or Anatomy, because I didn't have the grades to succeed in those.)

Ellen K said...

The first day of my AP class my first statement is "This is a college level course."
Unfortunately under the guise of freedom, our administration allows ANY student to sign up for AP courses even when they have not had the prerequisite courses. In fact on my AP test results, I have students who never took my class. I can only take cold comfort in the fact that none made higher than a 3. As for the rest, we have students who are taking it for the outrageous GPA AP multiplier bump of 1.3. What ends up happening then is that the marginal students make just a high enough score to pass and drag and distract the serious students. AP students should be held to a higher caliber of work. I shouldn't have to have a student who is incapable of passing general education courses in an AP class.

Anonymous said...

Not only a feather in the cap: counts for more points on some state report cards. Our advanced (college prep) courses were ruined when opened to all. Those low-performers with abysmal reading comprehension and no writing skills (thinking skills) were a drag on the classes and kept the high flyers from their best experience. I routinely now have classes with kids with IQs in the 75-80 range with my gifted students. Who is served in a class where I have to try to get kids to recognize subjects and predicates, nouns, verbs, etc. and others in the same room need to write 5-10 page argument research papers? Differentiated INSIDE the classroom is education voo-doo at the HS level; differentiate in the class rosters. Then I have a good chance that I will help each child advance as much as possible and at the speed they can learn best with.
I realize that if I posted this on certain blogs, I would be flamed for my insensitive, elitist views, but I have taught thousands of teenagers in my 30 years of teaching and I know what I'm talking about.

Auntie Ann said...

Seems like the idea of zone of proximal development is useful here. Give kids a class that is too easy, and they learn little. Give them a class that is too hard and they also learn little. Give them a class which fits their prior knowledge and skills and takes them to the next level and they can learn.

Joanne Jacobs said...

Do AP teachers change what they teach, or lower grading standards, as more unprepared students enroll in their classes? Do the kids who'll end up with a 1 on the AP exam pass the class with a C?

Darren said...

When enough students get low grades, teachers will be pressured to raise grades. However that happens, it happens.

Ellen K said...

I'm retiring next year (God willing) and I will be scoring without a net. It will be interesting for all involved.