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February 7, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

AP TESTS: THUMBS UP OR THUMBS DOWN?....I recently received a scathing email from Paul Camp, a physics professor at Spelman College, that caused me to pay more attention than I usually would to the latest AP braggadocio from the College Board. Apparently the number of students taking AP tests is up from 405,000 in 2000 to 609,000 in 2005, and the number getting a passing score on at least one test is up from 260,000 to 378,000.

This seems like good news, but Professor Camp begs to differ:

AP sucks Moon rocks.

It is the very apotheosis of "a mile wide and an inch deep." They cover everything in the mighty Giancoli tome that sits unread on my bookshelf, all 1500 pages of it. They have seen not only Newtonian mechanics but also optics, sound, electromagnetic theory, Maxwell's equations, special relativity, quantum mechanics and even AC circuits. They don't understand any of it, but they've seen it all. They come into my class thinking, by and large, that objects move due to the force of their motion and cease moving when that force has all been used up; that tables do not prevent things from falling by exerting a force but by simply being in the way, blocking the natural motion; that when a tossed coin reaches the top of its flight, the force of gravity and the force of its motion are balanced; that opposite charges are attracted magnetically; and I could rant on for a while.

He doesn't think much more highly of AP math, either.

Anyway, this makes me curious. I have lots of readers who teach at the high school and college level and I'm wondering what they think about this. Are AP tests (and AP classes) all they're cracked up to be? Or are there lots of you who grit your teeth but secretly agree with my correspondent? And is this just a physics thing, or do history and lit teachers have the same complaint? Comments are open for both science-y types and liberal arts-ish types.

Kevin Drum 9:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (138)

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Prof. Camp is, of course, correct. But none of this is the fault of the AP exam, nor does performance on the AP exam distinguish between such shallow understanding and deep and sophisticated understanding.

The problem isn't the AP exam. The problem is lazy students and lousy teachers. And it doesn't end with high school, I'm sorry to say.

Posted by: Prof. Joel on February 7, 2006 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

As the subject of AP tests myself, (History and American Government) I must agree with the assertion that too much ground and too little depth is covered.
The AP History course I took covered from the creation of the constitution to the 1960's in the course of the year. Dates and some general events were covered, yet there lack of substance behind the dates.
Sadly, thats all the test really requied. Looking back from college, lots of important detailed are simply ignored or overlooked.

Posted by: Chad on February 7, 2006 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum:

Comments are open.

Are any of the comments here ever closed?

Just wonderin'.

Posted by: grape_crush on February 7, 2006 at 9:47 PM | PERMALINK

You go, Prof. Camp.
http://www.samefacts.com/archives/teaching_/2005/11/science_and_faith.php

and it's not just science:

http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30811FD3C550C728CDDA00894DD404482

Posted by: Michael O'Hare on February 7, 2006 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

Grape: No, they never are except on very rare occasions. Just trying to sound friendly, that's all.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on February 7, 2006 at 9:49 PM | PERMALINK

A friend who is a Professor of Mathematics at a University of California campus always bemoans the fact that the percentage of students who are willing and able to tackle sophisticated mathematics has declined rapidly, and he is happy if only one or two students in a class of sixty or so are serious about the subject.

So indirectly, this must mean that the AP math sucks.

Posted by: lib on February 7, 2006 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with AP classes is not that they are too shallow, or too broad, or what have you. For college-preparatory high school courses, they're damn good, in my experience. They encourage students to think quickly and creatively, and they're fast-paced without sacrificing depth (compared to other high-school classes).
The problem is that they're billed as equivalent to a college course, and they're not. People pay the absurd test fees because it's cheaper than taking the class in college, and they end up just skipping the course without learning everything they needed for the next level. That's the problem.

Posted by: Viserys on February 7, 2006 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

This is a personal anecdote, and it's not quite the same thing as AP, but it still pisses me off to think about.

My son was in the International Baccalaureate program in his high school and had extremely high SATs. Perfect 1600 math score though his English weren't quite so gud. Still, the kid is brilliant.

He had three years of IB chemistry and two years of IB calculus in high school in preparation for college. Of course he took lots of other rigorous classes as well. Great education. So he takes the IB tests his senior year -- they wouldn't let the IB students take the AP tests since they weren't in THAT program -- and he gets pretty good scores, but the universities that accepted him, some quite prominent, wouldn't give him advanced placement -- meaning that our family never realized any savings in college cost that was promised us as justification for putting our kid(s) through the rigors of its IB program.

He's now halfway through a PhD in Organic Chemistry and I'm still pissed. Can you tell?

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 7, 2006 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

I took AP Calculus BC, and I took Calculus 3 in College (the next class in sequence). I found the tradition was not difficult at all, and I scored an A. And this does not mean that I am some abnormal math whiz. In the proof courses that I have taken, I got a B and a B+. While these are certainly good grades, they are not the grades of one who would inevitably transfer well from AP math to college math.

Posted by: Ben Lawrence on February 7, 2006 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

I disagree. I didn't think any of those things after taking my AP physics class, and I honestly don't know how you could get a 4 or 5 on AP with that kind of understanding of Physics.

Second - OF COURSE they're broad! Of course you don't go into depth! That's HIGH SCHOOL! If there was one major weakness in my college education, it was the constant desire of academic professors to narrow every class or subject into the slimmest possible subject area, one that just happened to overlap with their area of research. I don't know if this is true of your correspondent, but I definitely found it to be the case. Too many instructors don't want to teach a Survey Class - why teach about U.S. History - the Revolution to the Civil War - when you can teach about a single 10 years and talk about your personal research? The degree of specialization early in academic careers is frightening.

Every friend that I knew from school who has entered academia had started specializing in High School. If they were doing history, they had focused on that and dropped science and math as much as possible. In College they narrowed their specialty even further to the point where they knew everything and never had to leave their tiny little comfort zone - and they all are now in great PhD programs continuing this trend.

AP tests are no perfect solution, but people shouldn't expect people to leave high school without taking these broad overviews. I just want to emphasize - not knowing anything - that's bad. Knowing a little about a lot - good for high school, so in college one can learn a lot about a little.

Posted by: MDtoMN on February 7, 2006 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

The teachers are idiots too, let us not forget... I still fondly recall meeting a math teacher in a bar, who asked me how to graph a simple rational function... He asked 3 of his equally idiotic colleagues at school, and between them they got 4 different graphs... Need I mention that none of the 4 was correct?

Ex nihilo, nihil fit.

Posted by: cdj on February 7, 2006 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

AP Physics is generally a second-year course. If students have such ignorance of physics, I would blame the first-year course, which is supposed to handle such basic concepts.

Also, there are two AP Physics Tests. One is called B and covers everything as Dr. Camp states. The other is called C and sticks to mechanics and electricity and magnetism. In either case, fundamental concepts often get ignored. Most of the courses that prepare for the C Test are focused more on mathematics than physics.

Before people get too critical of AP courses, however, an important fact needs to be clear: If AP Tests were never invented, most students would still not understand basic Physics concepts. If Dr. Camp thinks that all of his students would understand the forces exerted by tables if only there were no AP Tests, then he is sadly mistaken. He probably knows this.

In general, AP courses come in the 11th and 12th grades. If students don't understand any basic concepts in their subjects, it is largely the fault of K-10. AP courses do promote breadth over depth, but it is nice that there are some students graduating high school with some breadth of knowledge about history.

Posted by: reino on February 7, 2006 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

English professor here: there's a strong trend in colleges, my school and department included, to stop giving significant course credit for AP scores. Unfortunately, some colleges will continue to give such credit as a recruiting tool, but there's widespread skepticism among faculty about the equivalence between AP work and real college courses.

Posted by: Erik on February 7, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

"If AP Tests were never invented, most students would still not understand basic Physics concepts. If Dr. Camp thinks that all of his students would understand the forces exerted by tables if only there were no AP Tests, then he is sadly mistaken."

Exactly the point of my post.

Posted by: Prof. Joel on February 7, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

I took the first three plus Latin 32 years ago. AP English Language and Composition was my favorite test ever. "If you rewrote the following sentence so that 'water' was the third to last word, what word would be eighth in the sentence?" :D

Posted by: Gary Sugar on February 7, 2006 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

Practically 90% of all education done is a mile wide and an inch deep...

Whisky Tango Foxtrot do you expect?

Posted by: Karmakin on February 7, 2006 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

Oops, meant to say perfect 800 on math. 1600? Well, I wish!

Also want to add that the IB program at his high school was filled with the brightest kids in our megalopolis while the AP students were, well, not so much. And still most universities take AP test scores more seriously than they do IB test scores. Go figure.

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 7, 2006 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

I teach at a major private research university not far from San Francisco that will not be identified.

In my experience, AP courses are generally useless, except when high schools have sufficient staff and instructional resources to provide advanced instruction to their most academically qualified students. They are at their worst when high schools try to do it on the cheap, and when students take AP courses primarily to impress admissions officers. They frequently burn out.

I advised my kids to avoid AP courses, and use the time to participate in high school sports, orchestra, and extra-curricular public service. They both got into good colleges, and went on to post-graduate education, and good careers...without burning out their intellectual curiosity, or their social conscience.

Posted by: Emeritus on February 7, 2006 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK


How can this be blamed on George Bush?

Posted by: fred on February 7, 2006 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Who is Professor Camp?

I know it's a small world, but it ain't that small.

Posted by: flike on February 7, 2006 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how many people have the same sorts of misunderstandings after passing his course, or the average introductory college physics course if he is a better teacher than most? Probably quite a few.

Dumb people can pass tests and classes.

Introductory survey courses are like that whether ap highschool or 100 level college. It's kind of the point. To get you a level of familiarity with the material so you can take more focused and in depth courses later, or simply know enough to read about the subject if you need to later.

Also what is a "passing score" exactly? A 3? At my university a 3 got you nothing in physics, math, chemistry, or US History. 4-5 allowed you to get some credit in history and math, and to skip intro courses in chemistry and physics (to pat myself on the back i got physics-5 chemistry-5 us history-4 calcA-4).

Posted by: jefff on February 7, 2006 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

Tables don't stop things from falling by being in the way?

I believe -all- of that.

Posted by: adam on February 7, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

I teach American history at the college level and, at my institution, we have literally no use for the AP history tests.

We don't require the broad overview courses any more, so there's no entry level course for the students to "place out of" as the saying goes. They can't use the AP credit to count towards their major either. It's pointless.

I don't think the AP course does any more harm than the usual high school history course -- which is often taught by an athletic coach reading from the textbook. But it doesn't seem to help either.

Posted by: TR on February 7, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

5 on an AP test puts students at (at least) the equivalent of having taken an introductory course for non-majors at a public university.

There's something to be said for courses that go deeply enough into a subject that students actually grasp the big picture, the method, the history, the complexity . . . I just don't think we have many highschool teachers that can do it and few incentives for them to try. Many universities let students graduate without taking science courses of this type. Hell, some "science" majors like General Science or Earth Systems push students to take 3+ years of introductory survey courses.

Posted by: B on February 7, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

I'll tell you a horrible AP story.
In high school, I was a chemistry/physics geek. I aced the AP Chem and AP Physics tests, which, unknown to me, put me on the college PreMed track as an honors student. So I went to my first college chem class, and I discovered, to my horror, that I would have to REPEAT the same damn experiments I had completed as a SOPHOMORE in high school. I looked through the lab textbook in increasing despair, I loathed the prospect of having to spend a whole year repeating the exact same tedious lab work I'd done 3 years earlier, and on top of that, the college chem lab was impossibly decrepit and worse equipped than my high school's lab. I spent the first day of lab work trying to recalibrate their scales, only to discover they were so damaged that they could not weigh masses accurately. I managed to hold out for another few weeks and dropped all my chem classes and changed majors.
So, fast forward 30 years. I am at my dentist, who introduces assistant, who he says has just enrolled as a PreMed Chem major. I told them the brief version of that story, and the dentist (a professor at the same University I attended) shocked me half to death. He said, "well didn't anyone tell you, your first year is a review course to make sure you learned it fully when you were in high school. It is just one of those rituals of initiation, once you get through that, it gets much easier."
Well damn. Nobody told me that. I could have aced the course, if anyone had bothered to tell me it was worth something in the bigger picture, and now I'd probably be an M.D. PhD. Sheesh.
Well anyway, the point of the story, I guess, is that AP sometimes doesn't get you squat.

Posted by: Charles on February 7, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

One explanation for the increased numbers of students taking AP exams is that many, many school districts, due to budget cutbacks and changes in focus (our district is more concerned with decreasing its dropout rate, for instance), have eliminated traditional honors classes. Anyone who wants to escape from the boredom of general track English, history and other classes is forced into the AP classes, and taking the exams is a requirement of the classes.

Susan

Posted by: Susan on February 7, 2006 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a professor in Political Science and AP courses in Texas are nothing more than a way to get well to do children into college prep courses at the public's expense. Most of them are not merit based and rely on appeasing the professional class in the school district where the administration makes accomodations in the AP program for a select few regardless of their academic ability. It's just another way to keep the elite's kids away from "them."

Posted by: Paul on February 7, 2006 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe AP tests are bad, but whats the alternative? Put people back in regular High School classes. Most High School teachers from where I grew up, Florida, do not have the credentials to teach a College level class.

Posted by: B on February 7, 2006 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK
I could have aced the course, if anyone had bothered to tell me it was worth something in the bigger picture, and now I'd probably be an M.D. PhD. Sheesh.

But alas, another liberal arts major was born.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on February 7, 2006 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK
Before people get too critical of AP courses, however, an important fact needs to be clear: If AP Tests were never invented, most students would still not understand basic Physics concepts. If Dr. Camp thinks that all of his students would understand the forces exerted by tables if only there were no AP Tests, then he is sadly mistaken. He probably knows this.

Most students entering college would probably not understand these things, and certainly Dr. Camp knows this. However, Advanced Placement exam results are often used for, as the name suggests, advanced placement -- that is, they are taken as equivalent to and replacements for introductory college courses -- and thus students which would otherwise be compelled to learn, or at least "be taught in a college environment", these things in introductory courses bypass them by virtue of their AP results. Presumably, Dr. Camp is bemoaning the relative lack of understanding these advanced placement students have compared to those who come to the more advanced courses by way of traditional college courses.

As others have pointed out, there is a trend for colleges to deal with this problem simply by not giving placement credit for AP courses which, while the only reasonable response, completely eliminates the fundamental purpose of AP courses -- and more specifically, the AP tests, which exist to "certify" that students have the equivalent depth of knowledge as the replaced college courses -- as anything besides a status indicator.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 7, 2006 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

It was interesting to be in study groups at Berkeley and have people very quickly come up with numerically correct answers and then ask me to explain to them what it meant. I would do so, and then get them to explain nice and slow how they got the number they got.

At Berkeley, Della Vigna is a brilliant numbers economics teacher; Brad Delong is a brilliant concepts economics teacher.

It might be that the stuff just needs to be hacked at from different angles.

A multi-disciplinary group that was randomly assembled and assigned an interesting real-world problem to solve would teach participants a lot about theoretical and real-world applications. (For example: "solve malaria." Success would be a description of what it would take, how it would work, why it hasn't happened, technical hurdles, relevant social issues, etc.)

Posted by: Saam Barrager on February 7, 2006 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

The thing is, the AP tests are now part of the must-do educational fast-track being foisted on high school kids, i.e. rather than "you can get a bit of college credit if you want to" like I was told in high school back in the day, "you better take and pass all the AP tests or you won't get into the right college and your life will be ruined!" seems to be the attitude these days. Stressing out about the exact sequence of things that must be done or your kid's life will be completely ruined is really tiresome, and I'm trying to ignore it. What? Algebra in 9th grade instead of 8th? Might as well fit the prison jumpsuit now.

Posted by: me2i81 on February 7, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

Twenty years ago, I got a five on the AP Biology test, and that allowed me to skip freshman biology entirely, and go directly to upper division bio courses. At the time, I didn't feel at all overwhelmed by these courses, so I presume I was prepared enough. This may, however, be because I had an outstanding AP biology teacher in high school, and the high test score may be more a symptom of that. (Our class got a very high average score, almost entirely 4s and 5s.)

Oddly enough, this outstanding AP biology teacher was also the soccer coach. Stereotypes don't always fit.

Posted by: sburnap on February 7, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

Why is it that high school history is usually taught by athletic coaches? I always wondered about that.

Posted by: cq on February 7, 2006 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

I taught AP classes for a while, but eventually, gladly, gave them up because:

1) They are fraudulent one may be getting college credit but not college level knowledge.
2) They are instruments of intra-campus white flight.
3) As high school campuses are now evaluated by the # of students enrolled in AP classes, quantity is more important that quality.
4) I detest teaching on such a super-tight schedule.

Posted by: Keith G on February 7, 2006 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Wait--you mean all that stuff is wrong?

Posted by: Kiril on February 7, 2006 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

I am a biology professor at large university. I have spent many years teaching introductory courses (before becoming Chair of my department a few years back). I actually taught the introductory courses by choice, most of my colleagues hate doing it, but I seem to have a knack for it.

From this very extensive experience, I completely agree with Prof. Camp. In 99% of students who have taken them, AP courses are useful as a preparation for a university level course, assuming that they were not learning their biology from the gym teacher. (Here in Texas that is a meaningful caveat). As a SUBSTITUTE for even an introductory level course at the very large impersonal state universities where I have taught, they are worse than useless.

Accepting them for credit does a disservice to the student.

Posted by: Ba'al on February 7, 2006 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

Why is it that high school history is usually taught by athletic coaches? I always wondered about that.

History teachers need down time to keep their heads from exploding.

If your highschool teacher was great and you avoided a horrible prof in college, the AP test was well worth it.

Posted by: Boronx on February 7, 2006 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

My AP scores matched well with my self assessment on the subjects, and predicted my university grades in them as well after skipping ahead a course or two.

Every person I went highschool with got the scores I had expected in thier various courses (to my knowlege, which was fairly complete, the ap classes were pretty small). The few (usually 2-3 out of 20 or so total) fives in each subject were the well known stars of the subject, the fours (another 5-10 people) were pretty clearly on top of it, but a noticable step down, the few who scored lower than that knew going in they were going to need a bit of luck to get a 4 (most didn't bother to pay the $60).

Still I imagine that it is possible to just cram people full of what they need to answer the multiple choice questions and have some of them score ok without knowing much. This is the weakness of testing, large college courses have the same weakness, the high scoring ignorance of many pre-meds in biology was fairly alarming.

One thing I think might explain some of the problem is that when a student takes a series in college for thier major they are very likely to take it fairly sequentially, and to be studying related subjects continuously. An AP score might be three years old when the student is skipping a course. Thats a enough time for a teenager to forget most of what they learned.

Posted by: jefff on February 7, 2006 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I took the AP tests for Calculus and European History about 6 years ago. The calculus was a throwaway since our teacher was absolutely terrible. Almost everyone in the class got a 2 or 3. No one really learned anything in that class (as I found out in college, where I was probably the math-equivalent of what Prof. Camp is talking about).

The European History exam was actually pretty good, but that was because we had a great teacher. We went back to school from about 4-7pm for two weeks as the exam came near so that we could cover all the material. Half the class got a 5 and most of the rest got a 4. And I feel like I learned a lot of history in that class.

It can be a mile wide and an inch deep at times, since so much material must be covered so quickly. But, given a good teacher, AP courses can work out remarkably well.

But I only have those two experiences. I would guess college profs would have a lot more to say about AP-educated students.

Posted by: Bolo on February 7, 2006 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

I never took any AP courses at my private high school. But I was allowed to take any AP course I wanted to -- I took AP history and scored a 5 -- I regret that I didn't also take the AP Government and AP World History tests as well. They weren't that hard at all IMO but gave one a good background to begin a social sciences major.

VA Tech did give me 9 credit hours (US History I,II,III), I don't know what they do now.

Posted by: HokieAnnie on February 7, 2006 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

This is amusing for me to read, even as it dredges up some old bitterness of my own. When I went to college, I had one AP score (calculus AB), but I had a year and a half of actual college course credits from a good state university, in everything from English to Linguistics to Physics to Differential Equations. (This is due to a program in my state that allowed high school students to attend university classes for free in their junior and senior years.)

Yet when I got to college, they would only give me credit for the AP score, and my college credits were all untransferable, allegedly because they had also been used to fulfil high school requirements. And yet I would agree with most of the other posters that the college classes were orders of magnitude more valuable than the AP.

Posted by: Peter on February 7, 2006 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Kev.

I guess another thing that I'm wondering about is the following text taken from the link Kevin provided in his post:

AP Exams...are scored at the annual AP Reading by 7,000 college faculty and AP teachers, using scoring standards developed by college and university faculty who teach the corresponding college course.
...students exam grades are reported in relation to an absolute standard of performance. This standard is set by college and university professors who administer AP Exam questions to their own students and identify the knowledge and skills that must be demonstrated on each question.

If the exams are vetted by 'college and university professors' as claimed, then:

A) It's too difficult to correctly assess a depth of knowledge using any test containing methodolgies similar to the AP exams (multiple choice questions, essays, translations, problems).

B) The academics performing the vetting are not performing the task in an diligent manner.

C) The 'absolute standards of performance' are not high enough.

D) The concept of high school teachers (who generally seem to be generalists in their subject area) trying to both introduce a topic and promote some degree of fluency in said subject is fundamentally flawed.

E) A, B, and D, but not C

Or something else I haven't though of. It seems that the complaint is that the AP exams don't measure if students are fluent in the subject matter, only that they possess the right answers to the exam...Maybe the issue is with how they are being tested. Again, I don't know.

Posted by: grape_crush on February 7, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Giving credit probably is a bad idea though. Skipping courses is better.

If you still need to get the same number of credits there isn't much incentive to skip courses you know you don't know.

I also like the idea of advanced high schoolers going to community colleges to take courses for college credit over AP courses.

Posted by: jefff on February 7, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Do remember that you are talking about only a portion of students. Many schools don't have any advanced classes. What? Spend money in a poor neighborhood? Try to encourage intellectual curiosity in the average student? It's hard for me to get indignant about this at all. I'm far too worried about the kids at the high school my partner counsels at - a school at the sorry end of white flight.

And for crying out loud - survey courses are important! Even at the college level. There's more out there than a lot of people know because they were never exposed. If you don't know it exists, you can't be exposed to it. I'm going for a second degree in business, and was bothered today that one of my profs went on and on about the insufficient education freshmen are getting in Microsoft products. Me, I'm disturbed because they've never read poetry and don't know the years of the civil war.

Posted by: lunaclara on February 7, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Paul noted:

I'm a professor in Political Science and AP courses in Texas are nothing more than a way to get well to do children into college prep courses at the public's expense. Most of them are not merit based and rely on appeasing the professional class in the school district where the administration makes accomodations in the AP program for a select few regardless of their academic ability. It's just another way to keep the elite's kids away from "them."

Maybe that's another argument for Vouchers in our upcoming Special Session in Austin, eh? Vouchers for Rich Kids! Someone queue Debbie Riddle...

Posted by: j on February 7, 2006 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

A few more points:

AP courses serve many students well. They may have been exposed to some depth already, or they may be able to postpone that exposure because they have some natural interest and/or talent in the subject. They benefit from the large amount of information dealt with in AP courses.

Dr. Camp's problems could be simple. If his college gives any credit at all for a 2 or 3 on the exam, then they are passing along people who do not deserve it. In strong high school programs, it is very possible to get a 4 without demonstrating any positive qualities. This may be especially true in Physics--because most high school physics students understand little about the subject, the scale is too easy.

Somebody should shut down US News & World Report. They realized they could sell lots of issues by ranking high schools but could not find any good way of figuring their rankings, so they base them entirely on how many students take AP courses. They don't care that somes students are in more AP courses than are good for them or that some AP courses don't teach anything. If a blogger published rankings as amateur as that, it would be an embarrassment to the entire blogosphere. Schools now want students to take lots of tests, which can be a very bad thing.

Posted by: reino on February 7, 2006 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

It all depends on the teacher/high school. I went to a large affluent high school and had excellent teachers for my AP classes. I felt well prepared for my college classes, and I worked harder in many of those classes than I ever did in college (I am in my last semester with a 3.8 GPA).

It is also important to remember that even though elite colleges might be starting to limit AP credit, AP classes are an admissions requirement for those schools.

Posted by: alex on February 7, 2006 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

As a college prof who also grades A.P. U.S. History exams every summer, I think the program has some merit and students who get 4s or 5s probably should get 3 hours of credit but probably no more.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. History A.P. has the lowest "pass rate" of all of the A.P. tests (half or less of the students on the U.S. history test get scores of 3 or better). You'd expect the toughest of the tests to be one of the science tests but that's simply not the case.

However, I personally don't think students should get any credit for 3s. Students with 3s don't have adequate knowledge to get any college credit. Those who get 4s and 5s on the U.S. History test are actually in the top 15-20% of the students who take the test and have the knowledge and ability to deserve 3 hours of credit. My private university alma mater only accepted 4s and 5s 20 years ago and that's how I think it should be. My current university, I'm sad to say, gives credit for a 3 and that's just wrong.

Of course the real fraud is not the A.P. courses folks it's that bogus stuff called "dual credit" that's truly evil. Students get credit for bogus high school courses that teach them nothing and get to skip the intro courses in college. There are some really unscrupulous universities in my area that really do allow the students to get college credit for next to nothing. It's pretty infuriating.

Posted by: Tom Spencer on February 7, 2006 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

As a recent highschool student and current undergrad, I'm a bit put off by this. The AP exams I took were difficult. Classes were discussion based and certainly comparable to entry level college classes I've taken here at the University of Georgia. I made a 4 and a 5 in my AP Literature classes which allowed me to bypass ENGL 1101 and 1102, which would have been redundant and unnecessary for me. AP let me jump right into my intended major.

Also, AP classes are generally difficult and AP exams are very hard. Many students at my highschool opted for dual enrollment or post-secondary option programs so they would be guarunteed college credit if they pass the class. You can pass an AP class with an A+, make a passing 3 on the AP exam, and your college still won't give you credit. It sucks, especially because some people don't test well.

If something is wrong with AP exams, it's that it is incredibly difficult to cover the scope of the material that will be tested on the exam. I didn't pass my AP Biology exam with a high enough score to receive college credit. The year after I left, my school added an additional period to AP Chem and AP Bio classes, allowing students twice as much time to cover the material with their teacher.

Maybe there is too much of an emphasis on the college credit aspect of the courses, but it's tough enough to graduate on time even with 15 hours of credit going into college. If you don't know what you want to do right away, good luck getting into your major courses. Yeah, I don't mean to whine, but I often feel that the realities college students face today are dismissed, and we're made out to be lazy and stupid.

Posted by: caitlin on February 7, 2006 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

As a recent highschool student and current undergrad, I'm a bit put off by this. The AP exams I took were difficult. Classes were discussion based and certainly comparable to entry level college classes I've taken here at the University of Georgia. I made a 4 and a 5 in my AP Literature classes which allowed me to bypass ENGL 1101 and 1102, which would have been redundant and unnecessary for me. AP let me jump right into my intended major.

Also, AP classes are generally difficult and AP exams are very hard. Many students at my highschool opted for dual enrollment or post-secondary option programs so they would be guarunteed college credit if they pass the class. You can pass an AP class with an A+, make a passing 3 on the AP exam, and your college still won't give you credit. It sucks, especially because some people don't test well.

If something is wrong with AP exams, it's that it is incredibly difficult to cover the scope of the material that will be tested on the exam. I didn't pass my AP Biology exam with a high enough score to receive college credit. The year after I left, my school added an additional period to AP Chem and AP Bio classes, allowing students twice as much time to cover the material with their teacher.

Maybe there is too much of an emphasis on the college credit aspect of the courses, but it's tough enough to graduate on time even with 15 hours of credit going into college. If you don't know what you want to do right away, good luck getting into your major courses. Yeah, I don't mean to whine, but I often feel that the realities college students face today are dismissed, and we're made out to be lazy and stupid.

Posted by: caitlin on February 7, 2006 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK
It's too difficult to correctly assess a depth of knowledge using any test containing methodolgies similar to the AP exams (multiple choice questions, essays, translations, problems).

That's probably the biggest part of the problem. Part of the validation should be, in a sufficiently large number of classes to deal with effects of individual professors, etc., giving the test to students at colleges and not merely having academics "validate" it subjectively, but see if the test actually systematically strongly correlates with class grades. If it doesn't, its simply not an adequate, valid measure.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 7, 2006 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin writes

Apparently the number of students taking AP tests is up from 405,000 in 2000 to 609,000 in 2005, and the number getting a passing score on at least one test is up from 260,000 to 378,000.

The problem here is too many AP courses are being taught, in part because schools are being evaluated by how many students take AP tests.

Look at the figures. How many students would willingly take a class in which only 62% (260,000/609,000) get a passing grade.

If you are teaching classes to pupils, 40% of who will not pass the real test, obviously the classes are going to suffer.

Posted by: MonkeyBoy on February 7, 2006 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

What is the purpose of college? I ask this question with great seriousness. When I went to college, it was not until law school, that I learned anything that could be directly transferred to the real world. Don't get me wrong, I am convinced that college is of great value, both personally and economically, but why?

As a followup, what is the function of the advanced placement program anyway?

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 7, 2006 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

It's just another way to keep the elite's kids away from "them."

Presumably what distinguishes those elites from the rest is their ability to use apostrophes correctly.

I can't speak for the humanities APs-- I took a few of them but only got "elective" credit from my universities. However, the Physics and BC Calculus AP exams were about what one would expect from a freshmen college class on the subjects. However, my college did not give credit for the E&M part of the physics exam, so I distinctly remember understanding the subject matter much better-- it "sunk in" -- when Isaw it the second time around.

Posted by: Constantine on February 7, 2006 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

I go to one of those small liberal arts colleges. Freshman are dissapointed every year when they discover that almost all their AP classes are worth squat. Only the math and biology departments accepts them as a criterion for advanced placement, and even then, the student must have earned a five, and though they will be allowed to skip one semester, they will be strongly encouraged to take the intro class. Highschool students who are told that good AP scores will earn them advanced placement at a good school are, for the most part, being sold a false bill of goods.

I second the suggestions that students focus instead on extracurriculars.

Posted by: Evan on February 7, 2006 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

Damn. I try to make fun of a guy's use of grammar and realize that I misread his sentence and was in fact the one in the wrong. That's what I get.

Posted by: Constantine on February 7, 2006 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

I roomed with a chap at University who, as he was about to graduate in his 4th year with a degree in English Literature, proudly boasted to me that he had never read a book in his entire life including all of his texts and required readings through University. All he ever did was regurgitate the Professor's words and they were all vain enough to consider those words to be the signs of a genius.

Posted by: murmeister on February 7, 2006 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

I teach chemistry at a regional public college. The students who come here with Chemistry 4's & 5's have all been smart and hardworking, and skip one or two semesters (depending on their scores) of first year chem. The 3's can skip the non-majors chem, not that that's a great favor because it doesn't help them meet any science major requirements.

The big gap we see is that the AP students lab skills are way behind when they are placed as new freshmen into a class with sophomores. They apparently are so rushed in during their HS labs, that they don't know how to reason in real time with burets, beakers and instruments in front of them. This makes for a painful 6 weeks or so, as they get up to speed. Also, we don't get many Chem majors out of the AP kids-apparently their experiences have not been all that inspirational in HS, and the shock of university labs is too much. They seem to be checking a box on some professional course list.(pre-med, pharmacy, etc).

For whatever it's worth, the students who've had AP Math at either level (AB or BC) do as well or better in Chem as the ones who've had Chem AP, and they're better prospects for a science major.

My opionion: $ should go into enriching all HS labs, and encouraging the math side.

Posted by: cyclohexane on February 7, 2006 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

Constantine, don't worry about it. In my last post I totally misplaced two commas. If we start worrying excessively about somebody's grammar we have missed the point.

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 7, 2006 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

I had the opposite experience of many commenters here, so I'll delurk to share.

Before going to Stanford I went to one of those rural/poor public high schools that didn't even offer AP classes. I noticed right away that my friends and classmates in college who had taken AP or IB (which was most of them) were significantly more prepared than I was. I can't speak to how prepared they were for classes they passed out of (since I wasn't in those), but AP and IB classes in general do seem to offer a level of rigor *and* breadth that you're hard pressed to find in high school otherwise. And at the high school level, I think depth is inappropriate - learning *what* there is in the field in general and (how to think about it) is way more important than spending two weeks talking about the Islets of Langerhans.

Now that I'm on the other side of the system (I'm a grad student in a PhD program -- I did manage to catch up after all, it just made my first years of college extremely stressful) I still have the same opinion. I can almost always tell which of my students have had AP or IB as prep and which haven't. I doubt it's equivalent to a semester at a college like Stanford, but I think it's far better than most of the other high school options out there.

Posted by: Rayven on February 7, 2006 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

Prof. Moon has an extremely high opinion of his college's intro-level courses.

Posted by: Kimmitt on February 7, 2006 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

Constantine: As your own use of apostrophes was correct, we won't judge you harshly. Your English usage is first-rate. However, your reading comprehension... not so good.

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 7, 2006 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

Prof. Camp, that is. *sigh*

Posted by: Kimmitt on February 7, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

I passed an AP English exam 32 years ago so I'm sure THEY are on the up and up.

Posted by: Ed Thibodeau on February 7, 2006 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

AP courses, if well taught, are well worth it - not because they let you skip college classes (though they may) but because they make the students work harder and learn more. If you get a 4 or 5 in Physics or Calculus, you have probably learned as much as you would in a semester at a fairly good college. Also, AP Physics and Calculus are all but mandatory as preparation if you want to be ready for demanding curricula at places like MIT and Caltech.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on February 7, 2006 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

I went to a school with no AP classes, and in fact thought on my college apps that AP was the same as "Honors." No reference point, so it was an honest mistake (and blatantly, to the admissions officers I am sure, unsophisticated). I did not arrive in college with any credits, needless to say, although I did get into good schools.

The high school I went to now emphasizes AP classes a lot, to the detriment (my opinion) of kids who have English as a second language, a lack of role models who have been to college or emphasize its importance, and other issues that need to be addressed by public schools (like it or not, but that's a different comment). My public school was the only high school in a town of about 40,000 people, meaning it was a small town with one big high school of about 1600 students. That's as big as it gets in my state (not Texas, obviously).

In any event, my main problem with AP is that it has filtered down as a "requirement" that people take seriously and that skews educational programs towards people who already are doing fine, by most measures, academically (we're speaking of high school students). I got good grades and good scores, and I got into good schools. This is 1989. I also did a lot of extra-curricular stuff. Same was true for others in my class. Good grades, good scores, good experience, good schools. Now, it seems I would need AP credit, if only because they are now offered at my high school. If I didn't take them, I would somehow be less rigorous, yet AP classes have to be funded, whereas when I went to school, they weren't, and it didn't seem to matter for those of us who excelled in all other (available) areas.

AP is OK as a "hurdle" to make admissions decisions I suppose (you have to "measure" something or many things), but it does cause the school budget to skew towards those like me who do well in school and on tests. This is not a great thing, in my opinion. Public schools should be judged based on how they serve all of their students, not only those who already are on the college track.

To the extent high schools, especially public ones, emphasize providing good students with more opportunities or more ability to dazzle colleges at the expense of students who are doing less well, that is warped in my opinon. Think Bush tax cuts and apply it to education.

Finally, public school funding reall is a zero-sum, or almost zero-sum game. To the extent AP gets more funding, something else doesn't. Unless of course, you have a group of private parents willing to fund AP above and beyond their tax obligations. This, of course, creates a stratified system even more warped than would exist otherwise.

This, perhaps, is purely a function of only having one large public high school, with no private options. That, I must say, is generally the case in many, many parts of the US with large schools, the normal number of "gifted" students, and limited resources.

Posted by: abjectfunk on February 7, 2006 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

FWIW Here's my verison of the AP story:

1) Took a bunch of AP's, did ok, but only physics and Calc AB/BC credits were usable in the Compsci program I was doing.
2. I am quite glad I skipped doing Calc again.
3. I think skipping mechanics was cool too, but nowadays I sometimes wish I knew mechanics better (not for my job, just for general knowledge or hobbies).
4. But I dunno whether college intro mechanics would have gotten me what I want anyway. College teaches those things at a pretty broad level too.


Sometimes what helps most is revisiting the basics at a later age, when you can learn things more readily. I'm not sure whether, in general, kids at that age can really learn the basics from an intro course in a way that satisfies the snobs/experts like prof camp.

Posted by: none on February 7, 2006 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

I would beg to differ with the posts above.

From my experience, people who take AP courses and get a 3 and above should get some credit from a given college/university. Definitely for a 4 or 5.I am a recent grad too.

For example, AP US History is much more rigorous than Intro US History at the University of Michigan. The AP US History exam requires a student to learn a lot of facts and write two essays in a short amount of time. The Intro US History exam at U Mich could be easily bullshitted with vauge essay questions. I know I put in a lot more work over a year for AP US History exam than my roommate did for his intro US History courses.

I wonder if college professors and universities have self-interest involved in rejecting AP credits; it reduces the number of large, relatively cheap lecture survey courses to teach, and students can graduate earlier.

Posted by: Frank on February 7, 2006 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

25 years ago, they meant something. I remember my high school offered only a few AP. You had to be a senior, the courses were hard, and you had to work hard to get a 5 on the exam. AP Bio, English, and History allowed me to avoid intro Bio and English classes, and get into the meat of things. I'm now a biology professor.

Nowadays, I have mixed feelings. I see kids taking AP Bio as HS sophomores and I'm sorry, without some chem, basic bio, and physics behind it, they just aren't as qualified. It is inevitably superficial and we can tell that when we get them in college classes. I think an AP curriculum for a student who is ready can do a lot, b ut now it has become a notch on the belt for school and student and it too often ISN'T about a college equivalent class. Killed by its own success in many ways.

Posted by: ProfF on February 7, 2006 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

I think APs are great for placing out of stuff that isn't directly relevant for your major. I took AP American History, snoozed through the class, got a 4 on the exam (because much of it doesn't require rote regurgitation) Also took Calc and CS. Had two very good teachers for that. Did fine on the continuation of CS, not so good in math. I don't think it was the APs fault with the math, but rather that past Calculus, math gets really...hairy.
However, had I not had such good teachers for those two, it'd have been a much, much worse story. At the time, there weren't as many people taking APs as today, and I think people gave them way too much credit.

Posted by: mecki on February 8, 2006 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

Here is my two cents worth from the inside. Currently I am the Assistant Principal for Instruction in a high school in California, and prior to going into administration, i taught college prep physics and chemistry for 18 years and was Science Department chair for seven of those years at a different school than where I am currently. From a teachers standpoint, we resisted teaching AP Physics because we didn't think we could do it justice. The Honors Physics teacher, who possesses a Masters Degree in physics and is an outstanding teacher, didn't agree with the curriculum. It is rigid, extemely fast paced, and as others have mentioned, as deep as a puddle. Five days to cover some topics, regardless of whether students understand or not. Time to move on because the pacing guide says it is, end of discussion. Remediation-not a chance. If it was taught as a two year course, we believed it would provide sufficient time for meaningful understanding of the material. I agree with the previous comment regarding students being pushed into AP classes as a way to get into "good" colleges that look at whether a student challenged themselves while in high school. Unfortunately, that is how the game is played, so a 3.9 GPA isn't necessarily going to do it if you are competing with students who have a 4.3 because of AP/Honors classes.

Changing hats, our schools are under a lot of pressure to offer as many AP classes as they can and get as many students as they can to take and pass the test. A schools API ranking is partially based on the number of classes offered and the number of students taking the AP test. This data is also used as part of the accreditation process, so it is not good to offer few if any AP classes because you will knocked for not offering a "rigorous" curriculum. The school I am at now has greatly increased its AP offerings and enrollment due specifically to this scenario.

Personally, I would encourage our students to take AP classes in subjects that interest them (and I will try to get them a great teacher). I think taking the challenge, developing a work ethic, and rising to a higher level is more important than the course content or passing out of a class in college. If I had skipped my first semester calculus class at Cal, I would have been eaten alive in that second calculus class. Now that I am out and older I also have to ask myself, and I do ask our students, what's the hurry?

Posted by: wittsend on February 8, 2006 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

I teach writing in a humanities Core Course at UC Irvine. I cannot tell you the number of bad habits we have to break that AP English classes hit. One of the bigger are the five-paragraph essay and the "hook" or need to have some overarching world encompassing and extreme opening statement when writing four pages on hjow the Aenied specifically demonstrates themes of nation-building or some passage analysis in King Lear. Analysis, in-depth grammar and correction, these things are absent from many students, and nearly all of my kids have taken AP english and been admitted to the 10th highest ranked public institution in the country.

Posted by: Dave on February 8, 2006 at 12:07 AM | PERMALINK

Several of my AP courses were as good and as tough as most of my classes at Northwestern. Certainly, your mileage may vary, but I think Prof Camp may be mythologizing the college experience a bit. The courses that AP counts toward are first year level courses, which are themselves usually overly broad and often taught by grad students or in large seminar settings.

I would say high school AP tests suffer from your normal teach-to-the-test problems. Depth does suffer, and the pacing can be frantic. A good teacher can make it work, but it's harder. College courses benefit because they can jettison minor topics if they feel there isn't enough time. Something to keep in mind in regard to the whole test obsession craze.

Posted by: Royko on February 8, 2006 at 12:13 AM | PERMALINK

My alma mater, MIT, decided about 35 years ago that AP exams in math were unreliable measures of competence. Since everyone in the place HAS to take 1 yr of calculus, they put together a program of unit tests to cover that year of work. No matter what AP course you had, you had to do these. Those who knew the stuff, passed thru 1 yr of calculus in two afternoons. Others placed according to knowledge. IN the end, everyone had a minimum known capability. I believe physics went the same way.

My personal opinion as a professor (physics and engineering) is that math can be accelerated in high school, but that by and large, science can only go so far.

I fear AP tests have become one more selection mechanism rather than a real teaching plus.

Best regards

JHH

Posted by: Jeffrey Harris on February 8, 2006 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

Back in 1979, I got a 5 in Calculus BC, and a 4 in English and German. When I started College, I was able to take third semester calculus right away, as well as diffy- Q my sophomore year. I started in advanced German classes also right away. Through some finagling, I also skipped intro chem I & II, which allowed me to take advanced analytical chemistry in my Junior year and Statistical Mechanics my senior year.
For the good Dr. Camp, I would advise him that 95% of the students taking Physics 101 & 102 don't really get it either.
Ron Byers, AP allows one to skip the intro courses and take more advanced courses, and maybe graduate a semester or two early.
College sometimes exposes you to The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, and Bruce Springsteen. It also forces you to manage your time between studies and social life. It also teaches you clever games like "Bong 98."

Posted by: gyp on February 8, 2006 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

During high school I went to a local university to take calculus rather than taking the AP course. I ended up in a class that had several people from my high school who took the AP course (who graduated HS before me). I managed to do just as well, or better than most of those people. During my senior year in high school I wrote a few tests for the AP calculus course that no one did well on.

One could easily blame the teacher on this, but I had the same teacher for pre-calc and learned and digested enough to do well in the college course--and many did well on the AP test. Also, I know at least one student who ended up going to grad school at MIT.

I think a large part of it has to do with the mindset of the students--who are 16, 17 or 18. I don't think it's really teachers or the test, but more a function of it being during high school. From my recollection, the approach to classes and studying didn't change for most people until 2nd or 3rd year of college.

Posted by: gq on February 8, 2006 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

I think the prof's have too high an opinion of their intro level courses.

I only took one AP class, Calculus BC, thirty years ago. It was one of the most difficult tests I have ever taken. I got a 4 and tested out of 1st semester Calc at Washington University/St Louis. We had an excellent AP teacher at my high school, I thought I received a very good foundation of the material. I had no problem with 2nd semester Calc or Dif EQ I took my freshman year.

Most of the kids I knew my first year at college were taking 1st semester Calculus. I tutored many of them and the instruction those kids received was far inferior to what I had had in high school, both in breadth and depth of the material. I do not see any way way a student could get a 5 on the AB exam or a 4 on the BC and not have a better grasp of Calculus than a student that went through the turn the crank shlock doled out by profs in the intro course.

Yeah, AP tests may have some issues, but the kids who tested out have a better grasp of the material than the students exiting the intro level course; at least for Calculus.

TT

Posted by: Tom Torack on February 8, 2006 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

Cheney:

I would think that is a reasonable suggestion, but funding the class isn't really the hurdle. Our area is rapidly growing, with a new comprehensive high school opening next year, two more new schools in 2008, and another two in 2010, added to the five the district built between 1990 and 2005. Because of this I believe we could offer the class. However, with all this growth, our schools are still overcrowded. The new school opening next year will be overcapacity by the time the first graduating class leaves (it opens with 9th and 10th graders only). As department chair (and as Asst. Prin.) I can't justify offering a two year class that only enrolls 10-15 students tops. Unfortunately, that is the number of students who would be interested in a class with that committment. That is a tough sell when your biology, chemistry, and phyiscs classess all average about 38 students.

Posted by: wittsend on February 8, 2006 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

"He had three years of IB chemistry and two years of IB calculus in high school in preparation for college...but the universities that accepted him, some quite prominent, wouldn't give him advanced placement -- meaning that our family never realized any savings in college cost that was promised us as justification for putting our kid(s) through the rigors of its IB program."

HRlaughed, I think you have it all wrong. Is saving the tuition costs for three credits really the ONLY reason you can think of for putting your kid through the IB program?

The IB (and the AP, for that matter) is about and should be about preparing the student for the rigors of college academics. Considering the attrition rate at American universities, I'd say that was a worthy goal in itself. And then there's that thing called learning...

I took AP English and History--made a 5 on the exam. My college didn't give me credit for them. So what? I KNEW how to write a term paper--and a lot of my classmates didn't. Freshman year Poli Sci was a breeze. What's wrong with that? Jesus, there are so many other pressures during freshman year, what's wrong with being a little extra-prepared?

Now my son is in IB. I couldn't care less if he gets college credit or not. I just want him to get INTO college and to STAY in college. None of this home-after-one-semester crap which seems to be a distressing trend nowadays.

Posted by: LAS on February 8, 2006 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

I basically got out of a year of college on my AP credits and let me tell you, compared to what my roommates were doing in say their intoduction to history classes, my high school European AP course absolutely smoked them. And I went to a pretty well-regarded private college. Forcing me to retake the intro courses would have been a waste of my time. I moved straight to upper level and my GPA did just fine.

Posted by: Me2d on February 8, 2006 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

I teach AP English Literature at a public high school.

There is AP madness at our school and, I suspect, at many others around the country; by this I mean that students take AP courses to make their transcript "look good" to top colleges. Many students take three or more AP courses per semester. It's crazy. AP is like a designer label in clothing.

It's all driven by competition for the top schools that will lead to the top jobs and the top incomes (and those Republican tax cuts). I keep waiting for my students to blow up from the stress.

I do not "teach to the test." I try to teach my students how to appreciate good literaure and write inteliigently about it- period. I am under no illusion that my course alone will make them the sensitive readers I want them to be - they don't have enough experience with literature. They are just too young, and they simply haven't read enough good, nourishing literature. But they have to start somewhere, and it might as well be with me.

Some of my colleagues discourage or in some cases prevent their weaker students from taking the AP exam. These teachers want to bask in the glory of all the 4s and 5s their top students will get.

Many of my students took the AP English Language exam last year and got 5s, only to start out with Cs and low Bs from me in my Lit course. They were puzzled. I had to explain that I spend more time on their essays than AP graders do.

My top two or three students every year are quite capable of stepping into a second-year English class in college.

Please, beware of blanket generalizations about high school teachers. Some of us are really good, some of us really bad - just like college teachers.

Posted by: Bob on February 8, 2006 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

Just to add to Jeff Harris's comment (re: MIT):

At Caltech getting a 5 on the AP exam gets you nothing (I got 5s on four of the exams, and never got skipped ahead in any of my classes). They do, however, have a separate exam handed out to 5ers at the beginning of classes in physics and math that allows you to skip the first term/year of classes if you demonstrate skills beyond the ordinary genius (but this just means you have to take more advanced classes later to have the required number of terms in physics and math -- what a deal ...).

It was much harder than the AP exam, and I didn't even turn mine in. I think this is a better way of dealing with the issue of assigning credit/skipping classes. The cram-session/guessing-strategy types who never learn material would die if they were given a pop exam administered by faculty that required deep understanding of the concepts (instead of the trivial questions you get from the College Board). This encourages people to actually learn the subject, but allows eggheads to jump into something else so they don't get bored. That seems like the way it should work.

Posted by: Yuri Guri on February 8, 2006 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

Another old fogy reporting in ...

I took AP math, physics, and chemistry (as well as history) in high school in the late 60's. The program was a very unusual one for the times: the calculus, physics, and chemistry were each three semesters. The net result was that I placed out of freshman calculus (correctly so) and freshman physics (not so good) and a chemistry requirment for physics majors (great move !). I also placed out of a US history requirement for my undergrad major - no harm done.

I would agree with another commenter above that it is entirely possible to get good math skills in high school, more difficult in the sciences. Finally, the quality of the teaching makes all the difference - the math teacher who ran the AP program at my high school was well-known in the region for his program.

Posted by: PC on February 8, 2006 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

As a current AP student (currently procrastinating about doing homework for it:-) ), I think that, while it is admittedly too broad and not detailed enough, it's the best that can reasonably be expected for a high school class, and much better than it would be otherwise. Quite frankly, even in AP classes, the level of ignorance sometimes astonishes me, and it's even worse in the regular classes I have to take.

Posted by: Michael on February 8, 2006 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

As a former AP student (who took various tests in 1993 and 1994), the AP did one thing very well: got me out of lameass college prerequisites that would have been a waste of my $75/lecture hour of tuition (at a prestigious private east coast college that shall remain nameless and whose tuition has about doubled by now).

And that's the point. AP classes help you skip college prereq's so you can get to more interesting stuff. For those that take AP and take it seriously, it's the first step toward a much more rigorous and rewarding college career.

Not to mention all the spitwads you'll avoid throughout high school by having classes with the smart kids.

But maybe spitwads only exist in public school?

Posted by: rebecca on February 8, 2006 at 1:13 AM | PERMALINK

I taught Introductory Cell and Molecular Biology in a community college for years. One year, my youngest son was taking AP Biology from a wonderful teacher in a good high school here in the SF Bay area, so I was able to compare what he studied to what we taught at the CC. They spent a semester on an overview of biology and a semester on anatomy and physiology. The content was not equivalent to what our students were getting in the CC.

Posted by: kaypaul on February 8, 2006 at 1:20 AM | PERMALINK

He said, "well didn't anyone tell you, your first year is a review course to make sure you learned it fully when you were in high school. It is just one of those rituals of initiation, once you get through that, it gets much easier."
Well damn. Nobody told me that. I could have aced the course, if anyone had bothered to tell me it was worth something in the bigger picture, and now I'd probably be an M.D. PhD. Sheesh.

Posted by: Charles on February 7, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if you changed career on without finding that out, it doesn't show initiative or staying power. Perhaps you weren't M.D. material.

Posted by: McA on February 8, 2006 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

LAS: I had considered that someone might misunderstand me and take the high road in "rebuttal" to what I wrote. I recall mentioning that my son received a wonderful education from his high school IB program. Because he did and it made a tremendous difference on his life. Just making the point that the whole spiel about IB students earning advanced placement in college turned out to be a steaming pile of hoey compared to all the stories we're both reading above from graduates of AP programs. If I had to do it all over again, I would still advise my sons (all three of them) to go through IB. But I wouldn't have any expectations that they would receive advanced placement or even additional consideration during admissions from colleges due to successful IB exams. That is certainly one of the big reasons people buy into AP programs. And come to think of it, my experiences as a father represent a huge success story as my eldest did not burn out or lose interest by having to "start over from scratch" in college since he's now a few years from completing his PhD in organic chem and researching very patentable stuff to make lives better.

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 8, 2006 at 1:57 AM | PERMALINK

I thought that not understanding the basic concepts of physics is an advantage when you get to quantum mechanics.

Posted by: JS on February 8, 2006 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

I teach physics at a major state university.

We recently stopped offering our "honors introductory" physics sequence, which had been the recommended path for our brightest physics majors. Enrollment was pathetic, because our target students were coming in with AP credit for the introductory year. But the honors sequence taught the material in a rigorous way, and presented it the way real physicists think about it and use it every day. Now our majors either take the AP credit or the huge intro courses for engineers.

Smart students also tend to be impatient. Letting AP credits satisfy our majors requirement is very attractive to them, but I think it does them a disservice. They never really get a thorough grounding in the basics. And then when I teach them quantum mechanics a year later, I have to explain again what momentum really is.

Posted by: Z on February 8, 2006 at 2:03 AM | PERMALINK

I took BC calc in high school, but didn't, how do you say, do much work. Got a 1 on the test so had to take some intro-level calc in college. Half way through the semester, after realizing I had the 3rd highest grade of the 100+ students in the prof.'s classes and that we were only going to cover the first month or so of the BC class, I stopped going, re-taught myself everything for the final and got an A. Point? The AP class taught me a hell of a lot more than I realized even without me trying very hard, and if the college had its own placement exam I would have gotten to skip the class. although taking it sure made that first semester a lot easier.

Posted by: future man on February 8, 2006 at 2:06 AM | PERMALINK

Hey future man, me too. Skated through high school with a 2.5 GPA, no AP courses, thus no advanced placement in college. My SAT scores were really high, which certainly surprised me (though not my parents, who had known all along with expectations to match), so I took some honors math and English courses in freshman year in college. But still, when I applied myself, my freshman courses were pure cake such that I had a very high GPA after that first year. I liked how that felt for the first time in my life, and figured that I might as well keep it up, and graduated magna cum laude, 6th in my College of Architecture class of 65. The rest is history...

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 8, 2006 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

My two cents.

I took Physics, Calculus BC, and English and received a 5 on each of them in 1979. I went on to receive my Ph.D in Physics from UCLA. If these courses had not been available, my whole senior year would have been a waste. The AP courses are good because they give an exceptional student the ability to continue learning. I think many people who could do well in academics have difficulty in the first year of college because they take a goof off senior year.

Not everyone should pursue these courses though. What Dr. Camp is pointing out is that now, too many people enter these courses. This of course must water down what is being taught. The mediocre students can not grasp the material fast enough for anything but a cursory understanding of it. AP courses for exceptional students is good. AP courses with many mediocre students pushed through is a recipe for disaster.

Posted by: John Hansen on February 8, 2006 at 2:25 AM | PERMALINK

Honestly, the number of times I had to un-learn a set of syntaxes for each set of knowledge I was expected to have has been immense.

Everything I learned about from math aside from the equation had to be un-learned in Algebra. All the science that teaches had taught me had to be unlearned in Fifth, Eighth, and then again in University.

The mere fact that kids 'aren't allowed' to know that the subject goes beyond their knowledge - that's too complex, that'll confuse them - and that they aren't allowed to feel 'safe' when confused - as though confusion or knowing you don't know it all was bad!

And the syntaxes for every branch of science is different - and then some branches, like computers, have dozens of small sects which pretend as though memorizing their use of acronyms and uses for the greek alphabet were the only ones in the world!

This guy's complaints are the kind that make people feel like school aside from highschool was useless.

And I don't know how I feel about that.

Posted by: Crissa on February 8, 2006 at 2:31 AM | PERMALINK

Crissa,

At least you're paying attention and un-learning when necessary. That attribute puts you into a very select group, as near as I can tell.

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 8, 2006 at 2:46 AM | PERMALINK

Here is what I see as a danger with AP. My (anecdotal) experience is that undergradates who have gotten a passing score on Calc AB often assume that this means they know the subject;
so in addition to having only a shallow understanding of the subject, they can be highly resistant to the idea that there's more to learn.

Posted by: Dave on February 8, 2006 at 6:26 AM | PERMALINK

Here is what I see as a danger with AP. My (anecdotal) experience is that undergradates who have gotten a passing score on Calc AB often assume that this means they know the subject;
so in addition to having only a shallow understanding of the subject, they can be highly resistant to the idea that there's more to learn.

Posted by: Dave on February 8, 2006 at 6:29 AM | PERMALINK

"Why is it that high school history is usually taught by athletic coaches? I always wondered about that."

Actually, what you ought to wonder is why high schools demand that history teachers coach. That's the normal sequence. The market is flooded with social studies/history teachers in my state, and job-seekers are looking for anything to give them a leg up. That includes being willing to coach.

Posted by: Michael on February 8, 2006 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget (if someone mentioned it already, sorry; didn't read the entire thread) that many schools "weight" their GPA, in that if you take AP classes you can get a higher GPA than someone who does not. While this is meant, I assume, to punish the kid who gets a 4.0 taking all crap classes while his buddy rolls the rock up the mountain and gets a 3.9, it also means that most serious students in those schools will take most, if not all, of the available AP courses. Once that is done, of course, why not take the test?

Posted by: go vols on February 8, 2006 at 8:00 AM | PERMALINK

Looking at the statistics for Spelman college, a historically black university with a mean SAT around 1050, I am surprise that Dr Camp sees any students that have taken AP classes.

Posted by: superdestroyer on February 8, 2006 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

As a former teacher, I think entirely too much time is spent on extra-curricular activities. I was practically told by my principal one time to not assign any homework on nights that little league baseball games were being played. As long as education takes a back seat to sports, all the AP classes in the world won't make a difference.

Posted by: E. Nonee Moose on February 8, 2006 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

when a tossed coin reaches the top of its flight, the force of gravity and the force of its motion are balanced

Maybe this has already been pointed out (I don't have time to read the entire thread) but if the forces were balanced then the coin would float in space.

Posted by: E. Nonee Moose on February 8, 2006 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not at all surprised that most students have shakey grasps on the subjects of Physics and Math. Heck, we have a horrible grasp on History in America.

How many Americans are taught that Columbus discovered a land mass that had a few million people already living on it? It's like me discovering NYC since I've never seen it before. When/if I ever go I will claim it in the name of Spain.

Posted by: James Slusher on February 8, 2006 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

A friend's daughter took AP and IB in California, and now in her second term at UCLA she's already a junior. Got into every school she applied to. She is a very smart very balanced girl, but as yet I don't see any passion for anything with her. I don't see passion for what she's learning, a passion for ideas.

Posted by: metaphoria on February 8, 2006 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

My understanding is that, from a public policy perspective, the purpose of encouraging schools to give AP tests is that they are a catalyst for introducing some rigor throughout the curriculum. The idea is that the calculus teacher will put pressure on the algebra teacher to improve her students preparation; the algebra teacher will then push for better arithmetic in the elementary schools, etc.

The carrot of college credit is just to get students into the classes. The real payoff is for all the others who benefit from stronger courses in earlier grades.

Posted by: Capitol Observer on February 8, 2006 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

I took quite a few about ten years ago. My memory is that the English and US History tests were a joke, but I took the upper level physics tests (they're split into Newtonian and EM tests) and, though I did well, I thought they were damn hard.

Posted by: Condor on February 8, 2006 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Based on 13 years of teaching at the university level (in the social sciences), students with an AP course in the field perform no better than students without such a course. In the end, isn't that the only measure that matters?

Posted by: john on February 8, 2006 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

They come into my class thinking, by and large, that objects move due to the force of their motion and cease moving when that force has all been used up; that tables do not prevent things from falling by exerting a force but by simply being in the way, blocking the natural motion; that when a tossed coin reaches the top of its flight, the force of gravity and the force of its motion are balanced; that opposite charges are attracted magnetically; and I could rant on for a while.

Oh crap. You mean all of that is false?

Posted by: theperegrine on February 8, 2006 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

What competent writer thinks in the following terms, which are taken from a standardized test?

balance is to crest as tide is to _________ .

a. wave
b. breeze
c. harbor
d. equilibrium

The answer? No writer thinks in these terms.

Posted by: Danton on February 8, 2006 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

I agree 100%. I teach College Physics. The problem is not laziness of students or bad teachers, the problem is that almost all students model motion, forces, etc. the same way as Aristotle. Aristotle was a very smart man but he was wrong about these things. Unfortunately, these misunderstandings get in the way of actually understanding the underlying physics, but they do not stop bright students from being able to do the typical word problems which are assigned. Students can master the simple word problems by figuring out what equation to apply and figuring out what you know and then solving the algebra - very little understanding is required. Of course as the problems get more difficult, the method fails but this does not show up on the AP test.

To master physics, you really need to understand the underlying principles and alot do not. Here is a personal anecdote: I did not truly understand Newton's Third Law of Motion until I was taking the physics qualifying exam, this is an exam taken by graduate students to see if they will move on into the Ph.D. program. It is taken between the first and second year of physics graduate school. I was taking the exam and had a sudden epiphany and realized what Newton's Third Law was really telling me and solved the problem correctly. The point is I had already had 5 years of physics classes in college and 1 year in high school and Newton's Third Law is very important. I have read papers on Physics education which strongly suggest that my experience is not unique.

This is the problem, how do you teach students the concepts? It is not easy, I have compared it to trying to change the ingrained Aristotalean notions as equivalent to changing a person's strongly held political views. It is difficult and they resist the changes.

A better AP test would incorporate many more questions of a conceptual type to test actual understanding and not ability to work problems.


Posted by: J Buell on February 8, 2006 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

AP courses are a failure of the educational system. It is a means of separating the intellectually agile from their slower brethren. The goal is seemingly to provide a better education for the smart kids, i.e. to give them a leg up. However, if a teacher is not good at teaching the average student, how are they expected to do a better job teaching the intellectually gifted children.

Posted by: Drey on February 8, 2006 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Color me cynical but I wonder if the recent pooh-poohing of AP has to do with the campaigning by students in high poverty schools to get AP classes. At least AP brings some rigor to lousy schools. And as these poor kids finally get a curriculum that will help them get into college, the arbiters of meritdom will yank it away by denigrating AP.

Posted by: lou on February 8, 2006 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Here's the deal: AP Physics B is a survey course. It's supposed to touch on "all of physics", which is hard to do in a school year but maybe it's enough if you're never going to go any deeper. It's not satisfying for anyone with a good knoweldge of the subject, and not for students who will do anything technical/medical in the future. AP Physics C focuses on two subject areas, and often schools only do one (mechanics) for a whole year. That works well and gives students a good grounding to work from.

Most of the other AP subjects don't even try to be as broad as Physics B, which is good.

I've taught college physics and my wife AP Calc. We both took AP classes way back. I would caution anyone with a marginal score to maybe take the college version as a follow-up. AP tests are written and graded by professionals, either good HS teachers or college/university profs. These people aren't idiots, and they don't teach Aristotilean physics.

I suspect where this crap is coming from is the poor students who take the test and do badly, and don't want to take responsibility. So they give a filtered version of what they thought was on the test, and someone who hasn't seen the questions extrapolates.

Posted by: loser on February 8, 2006 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK


I don't know if I explained that well. AP Physics C -mechanics covers 1/4 of the material that AP Physics B does, so it is much deeper and better.

Anyway, it all depends on the teacher. If your kids have a good teacher, let them take it in school. Unless they're going to a liberal arts college, they will probably end up learning the subject as one of 500+ kids in a huge auditorium taught by a professor who is terribly bored and doesn't prepare.

Posted by: loser on February 8, 2006 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK


Drey,

It is easier to teach smarter, more motivated children than it is to teach those who are average or aren't motivated or who for some reason need your help with simple concepts in a subject. Much easier to teach the ones who just "get it". Now, you have to be qualified in the subject, and you have to get those qualified teachers in the schools where they're needed. AP is one mechanism to do that.

I realize it's become trendy to decry "tracking". That doesn't make it right. Peer tutoring accomplishes the same thing as mixing classes and works better than making honors kids sit through painfully slow classes on a subject they grasp almost instantly.

Posted by: loser on February 8, 2006 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Sounds like Professor Camp has a problem with the first-year physics curriculum, not the fact that undeserving high-school students and teachers attempt it. I wonder how he teaches the course? My, "even" AC circuits. I'm sure the first-year students going into engineering who dominate the university course don't need it. But seriously, Giancoli is not the market leader, it's actually 1172 pages plus appendixes, and it's by no means the largest such book. (Number 2 in the market, by Serway, is about 400 pages larger.) But it's a great book, and all have a similar curriculum for good reason.

An very fine "reform" text (which in science means teaching starting with hands-on observation than by proceding from laws to cases) by Knight, although also rather longer, has pruned out a lot of topics. However, it has the topics mentioned, too, and its cuts have probably lost it market share. (Disclaimer: I've obviously worked in the textbook industry on all these kinds of books and approaches.)

Posted by: artcrit on February 8, 2006 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

HRlaughed and LAS:

There must be a lot of variation not only in how different colleges view IB but in how different high schools administer AP exams.

My daughter graduated last fall with an IB "diploma" (not all IB kids go for the diploma). Not only did the college she chose offer her credit for a complete year of college based on the IB diploma, she was able to take AP exams and got additional credit in other areaa, despite not taking any AP classes. Her IB education was broad enough that she passed AP tests without having been "taught to the test."

So, not only did she get a better education than I ever imagined (you have to work very hard to earn the IB diploma), she did get the college credit for it. I'm a big fan of IB, if you can't tell.

Posted by: Dave on February 8, 2006 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Another old codger(graduated from hs in 1966) weighing in. My two kids are in college now, and both took AP classes recently. One big difference between my AP experience and theirs: in all but math, kids now take AP classes in lieu of hs subject courses, whereas when dinosaurs roamed the earth (1965-66) we only were allowed to take, e.g. AP Chem, after having finished HS chem. Another problem: the AP tests are administered in mid-May. That is a full month before school is over in our area. This means that the entire AP curriculum, including test prep, is crammed into 8/9ths of the school year. Together I think this is why the result is a lot of work but not enough depth.

I would, however, say that a lot depends on the teacher. My daughter, who took BC calculus, got a far better calculus course than most high school freshmen. This is because her teacher was a maniac who treated the kids as if they were taking no other classes. Compared to the usual giant lecture courses for freshman calculus with non-English speaking instructors, these kids got a marvelous class.

Posted by: cafl on February 8, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

My daughter graduated from an IB program and received at least 35 hours of college credit as did many of her classmates. They took AP exams specifically for college credit and IB exams for the IB diploma.

Posted by: Susan P. on February 8, 2006 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

I can only say from my own experience that my AP Calculus course at a public high school was substantially tougher than the Freshman introductory course I subsequently took at a Big Ten University. I had an excellent teacher, though, which is probably unusual.

I scored a '4' on the AP Test, but I didn't feel comfortable with the material, so I opted not to skip the 100-level class. This turned out to be a very good decision. I didn't get "advanced placement", but I was exposed to high-level mathematical concepts prior to college. And I'm grateful for that.

The benefit of AP courses, in my opinion, comes not from giving High Schoolers the tools to skip ahead in college, but from giving kids a more rigorous college prep education than most public schools currently provide. I don't know if universities should use them as placement tests, but I do think that providing a rigorous, standard curriculum for college-bound students is a worthy endeavour.

Posted by: Violet on February 8, 2006 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK


cafl: The three places I've lived (1985-2005), AP Chem and other subjects are taken after the regular, honors-level Chem, physics, etc, not in lieu of them. Some, like the language APs, require several years of regular courses before they admit you to AP. It seems to me ridiculous to do it otherwise.

Posted by: loser on February 8, 2006 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

loser -- agreed. But my kids' h.s. offered AP Spanish Language in lieu of Spanish 4, and AP Spanish Lit as the follow-on. They offered AP Physics as the alternative to a truly boneheaded physics class. They didn't have AP Chem. AP American History was in lieu of regular 11th grade American history. I think this, together with the abbreviated schedule, is the problem at that school, not that the course itself is defective. In math, you reach the calculus class the old-fashioned way, by taking all the prerequisite courses, and as well have an excellent teacher. I think that course is at least as rigorous as the one I took at Stanford, and benefits from the small class size.

Posted by: cafl on February 8, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

The AP courses are designed with equal input from college professors and high school teachers, so I am not sure exactly what the dude is grousing about. Has he volunteered for the AP Physics Committee? My high school physics teacher was on it back in the (long ago decade), and it took A LOT of his time; most professors don't want to make that committment.

In any case, the kilometer-wide-and-1-or-maybe-more-centimeters-deep nature of AP Physics was of great value to me when I started engineering school. In fact I answered many questions on the EIT (first step to the Professional Engineer license) exam in areas I hadn't studied (the EIT covers 12 areas; you aren't expected to know them all) by using my AP Physics books and course notes.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 8, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

This is to TR way back up the thread. I think it is entirely hypocritical of College professors to complain about AP courses when they don't, which means they won't, not shouldn't, teacy survey courses.

What does TR expect? That students will absorb some notion of the general course of American or Eurpoean history out of the air? Your ordinary high school course is not nearly so good as the AP courses (I have a son who is taking a raft of them now).

Posted by: David in NY on February 8, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Bah...calculus is a waste of time anyway unless you do something hopelessly "applied," like physics. You don't really start to learn math until real analysis. :)

Posted by: me2i81 on February 8, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Response to Loser:

Ahh, but I think the point of the original post is that they don't grasp the concepts instantly, hence the mile wide and inch deep comparison. In fact Professor Camp's point is that they see it all, but don't understand any of it.

I agree that it is easier to teach smarter more motivated kids. In fact they usually teach themselves with the teacher only as a guide. My point, segregating them out from their classmates isn't working. In fact, I would even consider AP classes as a form of grade inflation to further segregate students once they reach the university level. However, based on some of the comments, it doesn't even do that very well.

Posted by: Drey on February 8, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

On the first day of my A.P. Calculus course in high school 30 years ago, my teacher said, "The reason you study calculus is so that you can understand poetry." What a great teacher. (I ended up as an English major, and he was right.) To me, what mattered was the teacher, not the A.P. credit.
I agree now that there is a mania almost, among parents as well as students, to take A.P. courses as some kind of ticket to "elite" colleges. My son is taking A.P. history now as a junior and I'm not impressed. The teacher seems almost worried about how his students will perform on the test to the point of focusing solely on test preparation at the expense of teaching them research and writing. My daughter took the regular history class and learned much more about how to research, write, and think.
I agree with the comments above that math is probably the most appropriate area for offering A.P., for the kids who are really good at math and just want to inhale the stuff.
By the way, some of you men do like to brag about what scores you got on those tests, many years ago.....

Posted by: Janet on February 8, 2006 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

As a recent college graduate I think that AP tests are great. Comming into college with nearly a year of college credits allowed me to skip the general college requirements which are just as tedious and boring as AP classes are because they're designed to cover the same breadth in less time in a classroom. Instead I got to plunge into the history and political theory classes that I was interested in for the most part and take whatever else I became interested in. It might be different in math and science because in those field having a pretty thorough understanding of basics is both managable and crucial, but for me, AP classes made college much more rewarding.

Posted by: jesse on February 8, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Took 4 AP classes in the mid 90s and got 5s on all of them. At my small NE liberal arts university, I was able to skip the intro classes in each (History, Gen Chem, Calc and Biology) which allowed me to quickly move on to the more interesting things, which I think is actually the point of the AP plan. Of course, in my high school (upper middle class suburban NJ public school), one coould not take the AP level class without take the honors level 1st. Also, all of the above named classes were taught by teachers with either masters or (one) PhDs in the field

Posted by: josh on February 8, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

My daughter is a high school senior and has taken AP classes, including calculus and physics. The teachers do not teach for understanding. They teach how to use equations. Never do the students derive a formula from first principles, so they never learn first principles. Her physics instruction is better than the math instruction, which is not very decent at all. This is due to math teachers who do not understand calculus, but do know how to teach use of a formulae.

Posted by: Dick K. on February 8, 2006 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Oh well. I'm jumping in really late and I know very few (if any) will read this, but I had to respond.

I teach AP European History. I have a Masters in History, concentrated in modern Russia. I have done extensive post-grad work in both Russian and German history. I have taught some variation of European history, or specialized topics within it, for 30 years. I have visited Europe four times, speak some Russian and German, read voraciously in all areas of European history, and generally have forgotten more about history than most people ever learn. So I bristle, naturally, when I hear that people like me are "unqualified" or "idiots" as one the posters above characterized AP teachers. Further, I have had the privilege of educating hundreds of elite students since I began teaching AP in 1999. There is no other course in my high school that gives the kids anywhere near the depth of study in the history of modern Europe as that offered by my course. We read intensively and discuss genuine ideas. My kids are exposed to facts and concepts they would get in no other high school course. Of course it's not college. To be like a lot of college classes, I'd have to spend a disproportionate amount time forcing the kids to study my specialty while spending 50% of the class itself grinding my personal and political axes.

My kids have told me, year after year, that my AP course has helped them. They proudly tell me of the A's they earn in their college history classes. (Their writing improves during their year with me as well.) AP is misused in many schools, I readily agree. But please don't use these failures to tar all AP courses. Taught by qualified people--like me--and taken by dedicated, hard working kids--like my students--they can produce excellent results.

Posted by: Joe on February 8, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

As a high school history teacher in the inner city (and NOT a coach reading from the textbook, thank you) I find that the AP course allows the school to pull some of the more highly motivated students together into one class where they can focus on a subject without the distractions of a "general ed" class. In DC we don't have the funding for an "honors" track, so we can use the more high-profile AP course to serve the same purpose.

I agree with all of the problems about breadth instead of depth, but if history in high school were taught any other way--delving deeply into 3-4 periods instead of the typical overview, there would be a general uproar about our failure to teach "all" of history, or we would be accused of censoring or biasing the course based on the subjects selected. The better pedagogy seem to be in the "deeper" (and more limited) classes, but politics won't let that happen. Everyone is already a self-declared expert about what should be taught in these classes, since most everyone in the debate considers their own experience of high school as the ne plus ultra.

Posted by: DC Teacher on February 8, 2006 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

I teach college English, and my child is now taking AP History in high school. De facto, at a lot of high schools, AP is simply the top track. The best teachers get those courses, and the best students are in them, and really, there's nothing wrong with that unless you are an extreme leveller by nature. The course my kid is now doing is outstanding. Yes, the tests themselves are not perhaps an intellectual workout -- much of the knack in taking them comes from learning testing strategies -- but you can say that of virtually any test.

From the perspective of college, I think that the only bad thing about the AP culture is that it does encourage parents to think "Now my kid can graduate with a BA/BS in three years and I can save money!" College, however long it takes, should be a deliberate process involving a lot of study and experience and reflection. If you do AP you should do more interesting and advanced courses in college, not less college overall.

Posted by: Tim Morris on February 8, 2006 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

HRLaughed --

I agree with Dave on this. There must be some serious variation with how different schools treat IB and AP scores.

I remember graduating with a full IB, and all but one of the advanced-level courses were accepted as AP-equivalent when I entered college (early 90's, granted).

In the dozen or so different universities I've taught in, every single one accepts IB courses as AP-equivalent. In fact, they still do. I double-checked.

Posted by: KenL on February 8, 2006 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

I have scanned the comments above, and at the risk of repeating some, I am going to weigh in. I posted a longer reaction here, if you want to jump to it.

Background on me: AP Physics (C level) teacher for 21 years, AP grader for one. I am the sole physics teacher at my school, so if my kids haven't learned their physics, I'm the one to blame. (Well, maybe)

Response to Prof. Camp's complaints: Points well taken, and doubtless commonplace. The AP Physics B test is a murderous survey course that can easily be poorly taught and poorly learned. Under my tenure, our school has never offered it, for those reasons. It's like skipping stones over the water, instead of jumping in. Yet, no one course, AP or otherwise, is going to dislodge several years of incorrect assumptions about the physical world from students' brains. It takes repetition, coaching, critical thinking practice and patience to get students to unlearn their wrong ideas and learn the right ones.

For example, researchers not too long ago quizzed Harvard seniors on their graduation day about the reasons for the earth's seasons. Despite 16 years of presumably excellent education, most of them could not offer a cogent explanation.

Some AP teachers try their damnedest to teach their subjects with as much depth as time allows. I know I have tried, and perhaps failed. High school teachers by and large have 45-50 minutes a day, 170 - 180 days a year, to teach tomes of material. Even second-year AP courses are not going to able to reach all students with the kind of depth the professor expects. It takes several years of contact with those concepts to understand them really well. I speak from personal experience. What the prof wants requires better science teaching all the way back to elementary school, something our present NCLB, test-driven, rote memorization, worksheet oriented science teaching is ill equipped to offer. I have blogged on that topic on my own site here and here.

Posted by: wheatdogg on February 8, 2006 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

My family lived in three different states between 6 and 12th grades, so I had American history for 5 of those 7 years. Then I went to a school that required everyone to take a two-semester survey course in ... American History. If I hadn't placed out with the AP test I would have been bored out of my mind. Instead I was able to take two advanced courses in their place.

Same thing for the required two semesters of Freshman Comp and Survey of English Lit - also known as the "most boring classes in the American University system," a title given by my English professor with whom I took one of two excellent upper division English classes instead.

At the risk of sounding arrogant - AP isn't just for amassing credits. It's for freeing up students who already know the material in survey courses to take more challenging courses.

(Incidentally, I also took the AP Calculus course - and got the lowest mark possible. Bleh.)

Posted by: SV on February 8, 2006 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

Always needing a concrete example to get the old teeth into, let's tackle "solve malaria."
1) Malaria is mostly a rainy season disease
2) Mosquitoes carry it
3) Mosquitoes lay their eggs on pools of stagnant water, preferably inaccessible to aquatic or avian life that would feast upon those eggs
4) DDT is wonderful at killing mosquito larvae and eggs
5) Modern farming techniques excel in the selective, economic application of sprays, often aided by satellite photos and GPS.
6)The only ponds we are worried about are near human habitated areas
7) The people who "proved" that DDT causes thin egg shells may have done wonderfully on their AP tests, but all their experiments and studies need to be revisited with truly and rigorously agnostic approach to the conclusions they expect to reach. In other words, they way they connected the dots, they didn't prove crap.
8) If there were an economic incentive to do so, it would possibly be viable to connect molecules of DDT to compounds that will eventually (after a period of time such as 60 days) cause DDT to break down. Any such compound (or living micro-organism) would of course need to be thoroughly safety checked itself for long-term ecological consequences.
9) The other route is to genetically engineer more human resistance to malaria, but this will necessitate long term studies of unexpected consequences.
10) To save a lot of lives in the coming season, spray DDT judiciously now and sort it out later

Posted by: Michael L. Cook on February 9, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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