Stepping Up Through AP

In our national quest to have every student college ready and to ensure all learners have the math and science knowledge to succeed in the 21st century, are there many stronger yardsticks than AP?

Over at USA Today, Greg Toppo takes a look at the push to get more kids enrolled in AP courses, particularly in math and science.  In what was once an area where just a select few students were deemed “worthy” to take an AP course, Toppo chronicles AP classes than now have 25 or 30 students in them, all in pursuit of that college- and career-ready tag.
What is particularly interesting is folks are finally realizing that AP is about far more than simply securing that elusive 5 on the end-of-course exam.  Instead, it is now about the rigor of the course.  It is about pushing students to do more.  About the learning that happens in such advanced classes.
This is summed up nicely by the principal featured in Toppo’s piece:
Principal Sean Callender said he pushes AP classes “every time I talk to parents.” He invokes a sports analogy to explain his line of reasoning with prospective students: “If you’re getting good grades already,” he said, “why don’t you step up to the next league?” Teachers also push struggling students to attend after-school tutoring sessions each Tuesday and Thursday help “to get them used to the rigor,” he said.
There is something novel about Callender’s approach, and about the general push to increase access and exposure to AP courses, perhaps the best way to expose today’s high school students to college-level learning.  And it may just be one of those great equalizers to help us close the achievement gaps that dog far too many high schools.
With anti-testing fever at an all-time high, and many believing it is unfair to actually assess whether a student has learned something in a class, AP is the ultimate measure of testing.  After completing an AP course, every student in the nation will take the same exam.  They will be graded on a scale of 1-5.  And as more and more students take the test, more and more are likely to score 1s and 2s in those early years.
But taking the test shouldn’t scare kids away from the courses.  Despite an assessment, the content of the course and the lessons learned throughout the year are a worthwhile investment. Even scoring a 1 or 2 shouldn’t prevent students from going AP.  Students who are capable should “step up.”   Taking an AP test is not the demise of modern civilization. 
What we all know, and what the USA Today article focuses on, is that students benefit from taking more rigorous courses.  The push should be on expanding AP, IB, and dual-enrollment programs so that more kids — and ultimately all kids — have access to them and can be pushed to doing more rigorous work in high school.  We should all be demanding increased access to AP math and science courses, particularly for those students from historically disadvantaged populations.
Perhaps the teacher highlighted in the lede of the piece says it best:
“People need to strive to do things that are meaningful and good and hard,” she said. “The more kids you can convince to do tougher things, the better off your society will be.”

4 thoughts on “Stepping Up Through AP

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