The next SAT test date is coming up on November 3rd, so it’s probably safe to say that lots of high school kids hit the books on Halloween night rather than going trick-or-treating. Many of these students, along with striving for good test scores, also take Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school in hopes of getting into a top university. But do AP courses actually help students get ahead… or are they a scam?
The College Board, a large non-profit that also oversees the SATs and PSATs, is the organization behind AP classes. It claims that AP courses are intended “to offer college-level courses and exams to high-school students. The courses allegedly provide students the kind of rigorous academic experience they will encounter in college as well as an opportunity to earn college credit for the work” (The Atlantic).
AP classes and tests a scam?
John Tierney, a former college professor and high school teacher, has many criticisms of AP courses. He believes that they not only do not live up to their ambitious goals, but that they are “one of the great frauds currently perpetrated on American high-school students.”
In a critical article in The Atlantic, Tierney makes several good points. Here are some reasons he believes that AP courses and tests aren’t as good for students as most people think:
1. AP courses often do not teach the same level of material that is taught in college classes. Tierney is a former college professor, so is very familiar with college curricula. He believes that, while AP classes are more accelerated than most “regular” high school classes, they do not stand up to college classes in content.
2. The College Board states that part of their mission is to allow high school students to receive college credit for taking AP courses, ultimately saving them time and money in college. But an overwhelming number of colleges and universities don’t give students credit for AP classes. They do allow students to opt out of intro classes in whichever subject they took the AP test for, which often puts them at a disadvantage amongst their peers at college.
3. The classes are targeted towards white, affluent students who already excel in school. The students who take AP classes are the ones trying to get into competitive colleges and universities. AP does nothing to help the students who need it the most–minorities, students from low-income families, and struggling students.
4. Although it’s a non-profit, The College Board generates impressive revenue, largely from the high price it charges students to take its AP exams — $89 a pop. What is the College Board doing with their profit? Could they lower the prices of the tests to make them more accessible for low-income students?
5. Tierney also criticizes AP for its strict curriculum, which doesn’t allow for variation between different schools and classes. He argues that one curriculum cannot work for every student in every school in the country.
What can you do?
All this may be true, but when colleges look favorably upon AP classes on students’ transcripts, what can you do? Do students who opt out of AP courses put themselves at a disadvantage? Probably.
In high school, I took a wide range of AP classes, including Biology, Psychology, Economics and Government. I had no business being in the Biology or Economics classes — without a strong aptitude for the subjects or a strong motivation to study, my grades were mediocre at best. But many college admissions counselors will tell you that just taking an AP course is the most important thing you can do, even if you get a bad grade. This seems to be true, as I ended up getting into my first choice college.
I did find my AP classes to be much more challenging than my “regular” classes, but it’s also evident that the College Board profits from this program, and that the culture surrounding AP courses has grown to such proportions that taking one or two may make the difference into getting into a certain college.
How should students and parents handle this AP dilemma? Is it better to take the classes and hope for the best, or boycott the system entirely? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo: MC Quinn/flickr