AP Exams! Are these classes really all that “advanced”?

Welcome to the Advanced Placement exams. But is it really the blank check it’s supposed to be?

AP exams start in a week (May 5 – 16), so, yea.

(Oh, and btw, we can help you prepare: we have experienced high school teachers to work with you  — real teachers, that is, not the just anybody’s who work at “tutoring” sites.)

So, you suffered through the class all year — supposedly it’s “college” level — and now you have to spit it back for a few hours. Best of all, it’s not for a grade. So if you didn’t prepare it doesn’t matter… right? The College Board says it’s good for you (AP Exam benefits) and I’m sure it is. It’s good for your teacher, too, because teach gets to pretend it’s a real class for a change.

College Credit?

If you get college credit for it, truly it is money in the bank. You’re free now to take a higher level course or try something else. Congratulations. I want to issue you a challenge, nonetheless: was your AP class really “college level”?  And if you ace the exam, are you really operating at “college level” or have you simply mastered an exam? I think it can go both ways, but I suspect there’s less “college” in it than advertised. To the extent that there is “college” in the accomplishment, having sat in the class five days a week for a year, that’s not college. Having followed a high school textbook, that’s not college. Not having read extensively of primary and secondary sources (books not chapters), that’s not college. Having had a full year to move at a slow pace, that’s not college.

Just clarifying

What it is is what high school is supposed to be. Unfortunately we call it “advanced placement” and not “high school.” I have taught these classes AP US Government four times. I did my best to challenge my kids, deliver them context, skills, knowledge, and ability to learn more. But it was and could never have been a college course.

This has nothing to do with intelligence.

Whenever I taught what’s known as “on-level” — regular — classes at the same time as an AP class, the difference was never in content difficulty. The difference was always in the kind of kids in the class. I had high-intelligence kids in the lower level classes and low-intelligence kids in the higher courses. They each got to their respective places because of one thing: prior grades.

Grades are important, but let’s not kid ourselves that “Advanced Placement” is based on intellectual ability. Insofar as we have defined “academic ability” as the ability to do what the teacher asks, sure, we have “advanced placement.” You do what the teacher asks and you get a good grade. This has nothing to do with intelligence.

Well, all you AP kids, good luck. I’m sorry for the smart kids who could and should be there too. I’m glad for the high-functioning executive function kids who are in there, whatever your thinking ability, and I wish you the best. This world grades us on secretarial skills as much as intellectual ability.  I’m just willing to admit it.

– Michael