AP Classes

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We know a student who once doodled over his AP Calculus exam. And for good reason.

There’s an interesting op-ed published by John Tierney, a former college professor and high school teacher, who believes that AP classes are “a scam.” We’re going to be discussing John Tierney’s post in future blogs (you might be surprised to know that there is a whole lot about what he wrote that we wholeheartedly agree with), but right now, we just want to share with you a story. Hey, keep in mind that we blog every single day Monday through Sunday, so we need to spread out the material like butter on bread! Anyhow, the story we’re sharing now is one that’s pertinent to Mr. Tierney’s op-ed.

There was a high school student several years ago who had been admitted Regular Decision to an Ivy League school. This student was not a math student by any means. He was strong in his other coursework — math was always a weakness. After the student had been admitted, AP tests rolled around and he was enrolled in an AP Calculus course. He had no shot of getting a 5. And the Ivy League college he was admitted to and agreed to attend the following fall would not give credit for a 3. Or even a 4. So here he was, paying money to take a test that was of absolutely no relevance to his life.

You bet that’s a scam! High schools are regarded as more prestigious when more students sit — and the key word is sit because a 1 counts for this too — for AP exams. This student’s parents had to pay for a purposeless test in which he doodled over the answer key and wrote a strongly worded letter to The College Board in the longer answer math questions kindly requesting a refund. Needless to say, The College Board never wrote back and over the summer, the student found out that he received a 1 for his doodles and strongly worded refund request. His parents never got a refund either. This student was Bev’s son.

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3 Comments

  • Susan Eckstein says:

    Dear Ivy Coach,
    I have heard, many times, of this same thing and something that I consider even more of a farce – my son attended Harvard, during the summer between his junior and senior years in high school and took 3 courses. This was NOT a high school summer program and he was considered a regular college freshman. He was admitted to University of Pennsylvania, early decision, as a senior. U Penn refused to consider as credit 2 of the 3 courses that he had taken at Harvard and for which we had paid a LARGE amount of money based on the following facts: 1) one course had been taught by a VISITING professor, and 2) the other course was not considered “on par” of U Penn classes!!!!!!!! He also, as you mentioned, was not given credit for some of those AP courses, through Adelphi University, that we had paid for!!!!!!!! The whole system is crazy!
    Susan Eckstein

  • KD94025 says:

    I wonder at the premise of this entry. Most AP courses at high schools, as I understand it, do not REQUIRE that the AP test be taken (at my son’s school, kids take up to about 5 APs in their senior year, and they are not required to take the AP exams for all of them). If the student chooses to not take the test, they generally are required, as is fair, to take a final exam. I find the logic of schools pressing students to take exams in which the student will get a poor score to be strange. There are usually multiple items considered in the AP arena when judging a school – quantity taken and quantity passed with a 3 or better, which is generally accepted as demonstrating competency over the material. If 50 kids take an AP course and no one passes, then what does it say about the school’s teaching method?

    I assume that the doodling student already knew that he was going to be attending the Ivy by the time he signed up for the test. And, frankly, the application had already been turned in. At that point, unless not taking the exam would affect the student’s grade in the class, make the decision to not take it! (And if it does affect the grade for the class, then it’s fair to expect the student to take the test to demonstrate that they learned the material. Just like, gasp, a final in a college course.)

    The APs are a valuable tool for getting kids better, more challenging curriculum in high school and for subject placement purposes once in college. Additionally, many high-caliber colleges do take it for credit, which saves money OR allows students the opportunity to take an alternate class in a subject they do like – in which case, $75 seems like a small price to pay). So, if it doesn’t work for you, fine, but it helps quite a lot of others.

    • Bev Taylor says:

      Kris,

      While this may not be the case anecdotally at your son’s school, most high schools that offer AP courses do indeed require that students take AP exams at the end of the year. We would agree with you that 50 students sitting for an AP exam in which none of them score a 3 or higher should not reflect well on a high school. But rankings matter to high schools and they matter to colleges. The fact is that this remains a component of high school rankings — like it or not. We don’t like it either — just like you.

      And, yes, the doodling student had already been admitted to an Ivy by the time he took the test. His school required that he sign up for the exam. He didn’t have this choice as you suggest. A final in a college course is different because that final actually counts towards a student’s grade, whereas the AP exam result comes in after final exams are calculated. For seniors, it comes in well after they graduate. So for this student, it was not only a waste of his time and his parents’ money, but it serves as a classic example of purposeless, superfluous testing. Students are tested enough. They don’t need to take exams that won’t help their lives in any way — especially if it won’t count towards their grades, it won’t impact their college admissions chances, and it won’t give them credit in college (his Ivy didn’t have a math requirement so it was completely unnecessary for him to take this test).

      We didn’t say that the AP exam doesn’t help quite a few others. It does save many students money in college. We simply expressed some of its flaws. In fact, we urge The College Board to rectify this issue immediately.

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