Advanced Placement Exams For All Students? End This Madness!

Over a decade, the number of A.P. exams taken by American high school students has more than doubled, to 3.1 million in 2010 from 1.2 million in 2000.

But the failure rate is also higher on A.P. exams, which are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. The proportion of exams earning low scores of 1 or 2 rose to 42.5 percent in 2010, up from 36.4 percent in 2000.

Nationwide, Almost 50% Of Students Fail A.P. Exams

In other words, almost half of the students taking an A.P. exam failed to pass the test: a score of 3 is considered just passing, while a score of 1 or 2 is considered failing.

What’s Going On Here?

From The New York Times:

Trevor Packer, a College Board vice president, said his organization was wrestling with whether access to A.P. should be expanded even if that meant more students failed. For now, the proportion of low scorers is “tolerable,” he said.

Mr. Packer spent a recent week visiting A.P. classes in low-income schools in California, where, he said, he found the level of instruction surprisingly high and students well motivated.

“It was also clear that many students were being placed in A.P. who didn’t have the preparation,” he said. But the California principals argued that even students who score poorly in A.P. were better off than if they had taken only standard coursework, Mr. Packer said.

Bruce Orr, the principal of Lakeside High School, in Hot Springs, Ark., agreed. Mr. Orr’s students took 297 A.P. exams last year — eight times as many as in 2004.

“It’s about adding rigor,” Mr. Orr said about his campaign to increase A.P. enrollments.

Across Arkansas, the number of A.P. exams has nearly sextupled since 2000. The proportion of Arkansas students who score a 1 or 2 has surged, too, and is now the nation’s highest: 70 percent in 2010.

In Arkansas, 70% Of Students Failed A.P. Exams

What? Almost three-quarters of the students who took an A.P. test failed it? And that’s just fine because just being in a rigorous course environment is good for the students? I’m wondering if these administrators have asked the students how they feel about failing?

Push To Start Taking A.P. Exams As Sophomores

The push to take more and more A.P. tests, at an ever earlier age, has been going on for a while now. When I taught at a high school in Rockville, Maryland,a few years ago, students began taking these tests as sophomores, usually starting with A.P. European History, considered to be one of the toughest. The idea was to take two a year, for three years.

Parents and counselors both encouraged my high school students to puruse this path, to look good on college applications, and to allow them to skip some beginning college courses. By age 15, many of my students were permanently exhausted, trying to keep up.

A.P. Classes For All?

Junia Yearwood, a retired English teacher, wrote a heartfelt op-ed piece in the Boston Globe this week:

For the four years I taught the AP English and composition course at English High, many of my students were victims of the AP mania that had invaded the system. Suddenly, officials had recognized the dearth of faces of color in AP classes and the drive to augment the AP minority population went into high gear.

The College Board and sympathetic philanthropic rescuers rushed in to solve the problem by dangling the carrot of grant money, and the feeding frenzy was on. AP classes sprouted and multiplied across all disciplines. AP scouts scoured students’ report cards hunting for qualifying scores; teacher recommendations were solicited for students with the “potential’’ to do AP work, and the nominees were summarily conscripted.

Even though students had marked deficiencies in basic reading and writing skills, and little desire to work hard, and even though they made repeated requests for transfers, the dragooning of students into my AP course persisted.

She goes on to recount her frustration at letting school officials know that many of her students were not ready for the class, and not being listened to, because the adminstrators were fixated on having their numbers look good.

Forced To Teach Basic English Grammar In An A.P. Class

As a result, she was forced to teach students basic English grammar in her A.P. class, simply because they had never learned it before.

Forcing ill-prepared students into A.P. classes makes a mockery of the ideals of education, and it may well turn those students off learning forever.

We need to stop this madness.

Photo Credit: hoyasmeg via Creative Commons


Lauryn Slotnick
Lauryn S7 years ago

The only relevant parts of this article started with the section "Push To Start Taking A.P. Exams As Sophomores." The percentages in the previous sections comparing the numbers to 10 years ago are basically useless, because the AP program was still relatively new at that time and many schools did not yet offer any. (I graduated in 2000 from a specialized public high school, so i had the opportunity to take several.) The problem is not numbers compared to 10 years ago, but pushing students to take them who are not ready to, for no other reason than the hope that this will boost their chances in college applications. This, I agree, is disgraceful.

However, the term "failing" does not apply to AP tests, and does not mean that the students failed the class, as it implies. Different colleges accept different scores for AP tests to qualify as college credit, and either you score well enough to earn credit in the subject at your subsequent college, or you don't. Thus, the term "failing" is misleading and not applicable.

monica r.
monica r7 years ago

It shouldn't be abused, but it IS a good program.

Or just do what "governor" Scott Walker in Wisconsin did to solve this issue. He kindly eliminated funds for ALL A.P. classes statewide. Good idea. You can't put the wrong kids in because you can't put ANY kids in. Anyway, billionaires need the money more than schools do.

Kathy G.
Kathy G7 years ago

There should be some encouragement for those who are prepared and desire to take AP courses, but they are certainly not for everyone. Pushing ill-prepared or unwilling students into AP classed not only stresses those students, but also takes away the opportunity of those who should be there to further their learning. The latter is enough of a problem in regular classes; we really don't need it in AP as well.

Doug D.
Douglas D7 years ago

They should be able to pass a test of required knowledge before being accepted into an A.P. class to determine if they will be able to handle it. If they can't handle the class, it will only cause frustration and disinterest in learning.

Maureen H.
Maureen Hawkins7 years ago

Instead of requiring ill-prepared students to enter the courses & take the tests, why not institute "pre-AP" courses that can lead into AP classes? Indeed, why not teach most courses as "pre-AP" courses? Then more students might not only take AP courses but also pass them.

On another note, just refusing to challenge students because they'll feel bad if they fail doesn't do them or the system any favours. I teach university, & I regularly encounter students who find it unbelievable that they can get Fs. I'm not saying it is good for students to fail, but sometimes, it's worse for them not to fail. I've always liked Samuel Beckett's words: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

JW H.7 years ago

"students had marked deficiencies in basic reading and writing skills, and little desire to work hard" As a teacher I see this everyday. Between social promotion, the lack of rigorous curriculum in the public school system and the unwillingness of teachers to give failing grades for fear of hurting a childs so called self-esteem students are ill prepared for college work. Look at how many take remedial courses in college. This in not just an AP problem - its an educational problem.

Mercedes - what kind of silly comment is that? Educate yourself rather than parrot the slogans of others - yeah - stop all testing and give everyone A's - jeesh - wake up

Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey7 years ago

The only people that are winning in the Testing Wars are the Republicorps thugs and Testing Companies who are pushing testing as the answer to all school problems.

The students and teachers are losing.

Kath W.
Kath W7 years ago

What are "AP" exams, and for that matter "IB" exams? Why not explain what these things are when you write an article? I've never heard of them. Not all your readers are American, you know.

Mrs Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare7 years ago

Yes, all parents want their kids getting straight As, and getting into the best universities and having the most prestigious jobs, and if I were a parent, I know I'd want that too, BUT what about the child's happiness?
I'd rather have the whole world think of me as a terrible mom, and think of my child as a loser than force him or her to chase chase a certain career or lifestyle just because thats what society labels as 'happiness'.

Laura Mitchell
Laura Mitchell7 years ago

It's not really about the kids, it's about their parents. It's the parents who push this with their eyes on places like the Ivy League.