Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Still Arguing Over AP

There was an interesting op-ed in this Sunday's PI about AP and gifted students. It was written by Walt Gardner who is identified this way:

"Walt Gardner taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education."

It was a bit confusing because he referenced Washington state but I wasn't sure what his affiliation was to the state.

He says that presidential candidates aren't talking education (he's right), that the feds don't care (less than $10M a year for the entire country) and that it hurts students who might take AP classes.

His premise?

"No one denies that underperforming students deserve special curriculum and instruction to remediate their deficiencies. But a balance has to be struck with the needs of gifted students. Unfortunately, this has not happened in Washington, D.C., or in Seattle. It's not surprising, therefore, that many parents locally feel disaffected."

He argues:

"But even AP is now facing a backlash that worries parents and students, who assumed the program gave them a leg up in the cutthroat competition for admission to top-tier colleges. A series of questions about the caliber of instruction have surfaced that were unimaginable just a few years ago. To understand the reasons for the shift in opinion, it's necessary to rewind to 1955 when the College Board developed the program.

Its purpose then was to allow high school students to earn college credit -- not to buff their college applications. At the time, AP was the preserve of an academic elite. But as pressure slowly began to build to democratize the college admissions process, less able students were encouraged to enroll. The proliferation was further fueled by government subsidies and by the College Board's aggressive promotion, which resulted in a tripling of the program since 1990 alone.

The result was that admission officers gradually began to lose confidence in the quality of AP courses. This became readily apparent in February 2002, when Harvard University announced that it would grant credit only to those students who scored 5, the highest possible, on the AP exam. In quick order, other marquee-name colleges and universities also raised their cut scores for credit, signaling the beginning of a new era for AP."

There were interesting comments to this op-ed at the end of the column as well as this letter to the editor printed today:

"Walt Gardner ("From feds on down, AP students are being neglected") believes that "gifted and talented" students in Seattle Public Schools are underserved and that the solution is dual enrollment (Sunday). Maybe he does not realize that his argument implies that students showing specific academic abilities are more valuable human beings than their "underperforming" peers. Even in strict economic terms, a high school dropout costs society more than a highly gifted student who does not perform to his or her full potential. Wouldn't it be great if we had a nationwide dropout rate of 5 percent for all high school students instead of the reality?

Additionally, there is a flaw with the solution he proposes: It already exists. For more than 15 years, Washington has had a dual enrollment program for high school students called Running Start, in which students can take classes at local community colleges for free, receiving both high school and college credit. Last year, the P-I reported that about 17,000 -- 10 percent -- of the state's juniors and seniors were enrolled in the program (Amy Rolph, "Running Start gives high-schoolers jump-start on college credit," Oct. 29, 2007).

Gardner should do his homework.

Maia Williams
Nathan Hale High School,
Class of 2005"

She's right about Running Start; it exists and is a good program. However, I take issue with her statement - "Even in strict economic terms, a high school dropout costs society more than a highly gifted student who does not perform to his or her full potential." What happened to NO child left behind? Why does it have to be an either/or proposition and why do people continue to frame it in those terms?


dan dempsey said...
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dan dempsey said...

Even in 1990, Harvey Mudd College would not grant AP credit for Calculus unless a student scored a 5 on the BC Calculus test. Then they would test the student and decide how much credit to award and where to place the student.

Everyone else had to take their seat in Calculus one, with the freshman class that had an SAT math average of 780+.

Unfortunately that is hardly the problem for most Washington State high school graduates. For percent of high school graduates ready for college, we rank in the bottom four nationally:

New Mexico 28%
Washington 28%
Alaska 27%
Nevada 26%

Find more information HERE.

AP is becoming a sad situation. Thanks to Newsweek and US News & World Report schools get a higher rating for tossing unprepared students into AP, which dilutes quality. Passing rates are absolutely abysmal at many schools.

The idea of sequential mastery of fundamentals has been dismissed by many reform oriented educators.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how far it's true that colleges are generally being more restrictive on granting AP credit? My own alma mater is actually *less* restrictive now -- they used to give only placement, while now they give actual credits. That's just one data point, I realize ...

There's an interesting comment on the impact of the "challenge index" Jay Mathews has come up with at http://themorechild.wordpress.com/2007/12/21/life-imitates-art-the-challenge-of-high-school/

Helen Schinske

Jet City mom said...

Schools may not give advanced standing for AP classes, after all the way they teach AP is not really equivalent to a college course.

However, schools easily competitive with Harvey Mudd- U Chicago or Oberlin for instance, do give advanced standing to students with Running Start credits.