This spring, more than 1 million high school students will take Advanced Placement (AP) exams.
The AP program is overseen by the College Board, a private, not-for-profit organization that represents U.S. colleges and universities. AP instructors are required to be trained by the College Board and must adhere to specified course syllabi. While the courses are generally seen as preparing students for the AP exams, in most schools students can take AP classes without taking the exams and vice versa. (Even if they don't take the exams, the classes sometimes have value for students applying to college.)
On an AP exam, one can receive a score ranging from 1 to 5. The College Board, along with most colleges, considers 3 to be a passing score. However, colleges decide individually what scores will exempt incoming students from particular introductory courses, and many require a score of either 4 or 5 for a student to be exempted.
Supporters of the AP program say that it can help raise standards in U.S. high schools, ensuring that students receive a quality education. "One of the reasons public schools are under so much scrutiny today is that we don't subject ourselves to external evaluation," says Jan Furman, superintendent of the Northern Valley Regional High School District in Bergen County, N.J. In addition to raising the quality of one's high school education, AP classes are useful in preparing high school students for college, supporters say. Not only do AP classes expose students to subject matter that they will need to know in college, they argue, but they also teach valuable skills, such as effective time management.
While critics of the AP program generally acknowledge its positive aspects, they say that it is often offered to students with a deficient academic background, thereby setting them up for failure. They add that AP classes and test scores provide another means for more affluent high school students to distinguish themselves from less-advantaged students on college applications, thereby furthering inequality in higher education.
Supporters of the AP program counter that even for students who do not do well on AP exams, the process of taking AP classes and tests improves the overall educational experience.
"Before we invest more dollars in expanding the Advanced Placement program, we must provide the pre-AP infrastructure in our middle schools to ensure that students are prepared to meet the challenges of the program," says Patrick Mattimore, an education expert who has taught AP courses at a San Francisco high school. "Otherwise, we can expect that our AP failure rates will continue to climb."
Another complaint is that AP classes are too standardized, requiring that teachers adhere to certain guidelines and teach what will be on the exams.
What do you think of the decision of some schools to discontinue AP classes?
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