Tuesday, November 23, 2004


There’s a good story in the Wall Street Journal today (p. D1), “Elite High Schools Drop AP Courses.” A handful of highly-regarded private schools are dropping Advanced Placement designations on their most challenging courses. They’re not steering students toward taking the year-end AP exams which can give you college credit hours if you can score a “4” or a “5” on the 5-point scale.

The top schools say that the AP curriculum forces them to cover the subject matter ‘way too broadly, instead of going as deeply as they would like. That’s probably true. Top private schools are generally acknowledged to have superior curriculum to most schools, and to many colleges, for that matter.

But the AP system is important for public high schools, and ought not to be dropped. Why? Because they give public high schools at least a modicum of accountability. It’s important for parents of younger students to find out how many students are taking AP classes in the upper grades; if it’s less than 5 percent of the student body, that school might not be as academically-focused as you’d like.

On the other hand, parents need to find out what percentage of the kids taking those AP classes actually wind up with college credit. In some schools – and you’d be surprised to find out which ones – very, very few kids in those AP classes actually get the credit.

That’s because top colleges often require a “5” and there may be only one or two kids in that entire high school who scored it.

On the other hand, in the majority of universities, a “4” or a “5” will get you full credit for the same introductory course on the college level. That can save parents thousands of dollars, and can save the student lots of time out of boring intro courses on material the student already mastered.

Most of all, AP courses are needed in public schools, but more information needs to be distributed to the general public about them, and the results of the test scores. It means a lot more to parents to know that not a single student in a high school received college credit for calculus, while the school’s average ACT score might be OK. AP data is a reliable source of information on how a high school stacks up, nationwide.

And this data can be utilized to drive quality higher in our public schools. So let’s keep AP, ASAP.

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