Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Latest Fracas At My School

I teach at a relatively high-performing school--at least, our students generally do well. For example, over 80% of last year's graduating class went on to a two-year or four-year school, if memory serves.

We offer a number of Advanced Placement courses and generally our students do quite well on AP tests. For those of you who don't know, these tests are created by the College Board and are seen by some to be an "outsider's" reflection on the rigor of our courses.

These courses are driven by the AP tests, for which the student might get college credits if he/she scores high enough. Accordingly, many of our AP teachers give their course final exam shortly before the AP tests, sort of as a warm-up for said tests.

Here's the issue that seemed to blow up this week, and today turned into a tempest in a teapot--AP tests are given at the end of April. By that time students have already taken their "final" exam as well as the AP test. But school continues until June 12th.

Earlier this year, and again earlier this week, our school administration put out the word that they expected AP students to be in class and learning. They may have achieved all the standards of the AP course and test, but they are still students in a public school and could still be participating in meaningful learning. Several of our AP teachers say that the course the student signed up for is complete, and it's entirely ok, after the college-level slogging that they've endured since last August, to relax now and watch videos, play cards, or pursue other recreational pursuits in class.

I certainly understand both sides of that argument, but I'm more receptive to the administration's argument. If I taught a class in which I could reasonably cover all the necessary standards with over a month to spare in the school year, I'd personally consider that month as a gift in which I could teach what I thought important or interesting in a way I thought best, unencumbered by any outside requirements. Talk about in-depth exploration of a topic, student presentations--no doubt the list could go on! Then again, though, that's what I might do, it's not what others would do--or what others are doing.

This week, a couple administrators started to make an issue out of AP students who weren't "engaged in meaningful instruction", and some of the AP teachers really got bent out of shape about this administrative hassling. Emails flew, discussions were had, meetings were held. And the outcome? Status quo.

Why the heck would the administrators make an issue of this if they didn't intend to see it through? As it turns out, all they did was tick off a bunch of teachers for absolutely no gain.


Anonymous said...

Oh I'm so glad you finally wrote about this, I have been checking here for the past couple of days hoping for some mention of our "tempest in a teapot". I am currently enrolled in two AP classes, one of which is covering new material and where students are presenting biogrpahies. The other is having some well deserved R&R. I am perfectly fine with either option however i am still (along with numerous other students) fairly annoyed with the administration. Twice so far this week, my classes have been inspected by the principal. He comes in, sits in the back of the class for 10 minutes and then leaves. It quite honestly feels like being spied upon. If the administration had clearly stated its requirements to both the students and the teachers prior to the end of the AP testing, perhaps their demands would not have been met without such resistance. But this does not seem to be the way this administration operates. Rather they seek to impose iron clad rules without consulting or discussing such things with the people they affect ie teachers and students. Perhaps we ought to be doing something until the last day of school in every class and ideally that would be nice. However, as AP students we have worked continuously throughout the year to be finished a month before the end of regular school. Not only do we more difficult and comprehensive curiculum to cover but we also have less time in which to complete it than an average class. Relaxing after APs is an established tradition. By attempting to control every aspect of our education, the administration seeks to mircomanage the lives of students who have easily proven that they are fully capble of pushing themselves and succeeding without being spied upon every step of the way.

Darren said...

Katherine, good to know you're still checking in once in awhile =)

I read your comment and felt like I was on a roller coaster--agree with this, don't agree with that, agree with this, don't agree with that.

So I'll settle on addressing your two final sentences.

Your second-to-last sentence is pure and total hogwash. Your last sentence is about the best justification for the status quo that someone could come up with. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Well i haven't quite figured out exactly where I stand on this issue, hence the roller coaster effect.

Sara said...

After my AP calculus exam, my teacher gave us multivariate books and had a small group teach each section to the class. I floated through the last few hours of calc in college! (And it was a change of pace and relaxing in it's own way.)

Anonymous said...

I teach an AP American Government class for seniors. That test was on May 9th, and our seniors last day was May 19th, so we only had a week and a half after it was over. We went through another two chapters during that time, but nearly all the work was done in class, so things were obviously a lot easier for the students than during the rest of the year. Although I've only taught AP for two years, my experience has been that giving "free time" gets boring, nothing good happens, and sometimes bad things do. I always feel better when my classes are doing something relevant, and I actually think the kids do to. It does sound like your administration badly bungled this situation, however.

Anonymous said...

I took AP Calculus my senior year in High School over a decade ago, and the situation described is exactly what occurred in our classroom, with some exceptions. Yes, there was a gap between the completion of the AP exam, our course final, and the end of the school year. However, it didn’t turn into a study hall or degenerate into Lord of the Flies. Our teacher still had lesson plans and we explored new material that was simply non-testable. Since the overwhelming majority of us had been in gifted school together, high level non-testable material was nothing new to us.

The bottom line here is that no one wants to discourage students from taken AP courses.

This is the problem that most schools would love to have.

Anonymous said...

The best analogy, I suppose, in higher ed would be honors courses. There's currently a big debate about changing the way students are placed in honors tracks (based on high school grades and SATs) because the quality of students in honors courses has markedly declined over the last ten years or so.

Ellen K said...

I am looking at teaching AP Art History next year. I love the course and I have been working on the syllabus and material since March. But this issue has been one of my concerns. Has anyone bothered to ask why the AP exams are given so early? They could move them one week later and not impact the system so heavily plus give additional time to those districts, like mine, who use accellerated block for their scheduling. For those of you not familiar, the students have eight classes, four in the fall term every day, four in the spring term every day. My class will be in the spring, which allows for more students to take the class, but limits us to 15 weeks of instruction at 7.5 hours per week. It sounds like alot, but covering art since the Paleolithic times will mean that this pace will be blistering. I begged for fall and then hoped we could schedule some study sessions. As it is, I will be lucky to make it to Picasso. That one week would make a big difference. As for after the test, I am going to have the students actually do some art. Frankly most of the kids in AP could do with a stress release. Jackson Pollock anyone?

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

We watched films of historical value which we had not time for before the exam. Apparently, their favorite was The Iron Giant, which then sparked a great discussion about the fears of nuclear annihiliation and fear of anything not normal and familiar during the postwar years. We also did a project, so they weren't just watching movies every day. It turned out well, and the students seemed to learn quite a bit.

Ryan said...

I was thinking that the lull period would be a good time to work on college essays and admittance materials and such, but then it occured to me that most of the kids probably already have that done.

Here in 1st grade our reading program ran out of material last week (we made it through all ten volumes of the teacher's edition! w00t!), so for the next two weeks I get to make things up and do the fun stuff. It's going to be a good two weeks!