The Tacoma School Districts desire to enroll more students into Advanced Placement classes may be worthwhile, but its implementation policy is flawed. Here are the following reasons:
• It is based on the false assumption that barriers stand in the way of students enrolling in AP classes. We are not aware of any barriers in the district. There are not any pre-test or grade requirements. There may be legitimate prerequisite requirements for some math and science AP classes.
• The district suggests they will train AP teachers to adapt their AP curriculums to the needs of students who may lack the skills necessary to perform at a college level. This effort would compromise the academic rigor of the AP classes.
Students of lower ability would not be completing college-level work, and the more advanced students would be held back as the instructor focuses on curriculum modifications.
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It is true that a gap exists in the abilities of the students already in AP classes, but these deficiencies are overcome by the students finding help outside the classroom, not by curriculum changes within the classroom.
• The district proposes to use the state reading and writing test scores to identify candidates for automatic enrollment.
We have seen no evidence there is a correlation between these scores and college readiness. The state tests are intended only as a minimum guide for graduation, not suitability for college.
We are not aware of any college or university that uses these scores as major criteria for admission decisions. It would be better to use the results of the PSAT exam, which is a national norm referenced exam.
• The drive to push as many kids as possible into AP classes undervalues the judgment of students. It also undervalues other valuable academic and life choices.
Students opt in and opt out of AP classes for any number of reasons. Some want to pursue vocational opportunities or balance school work load with employment responsibilities.
Even some of the best students avoid taking too many AP classes in the interest of protecting a high GPA. More than a few students take AP classes just to get the AP designation on their transcripts. And, yes there are many who end up developing an interest in a field of study that may be the foundation for collegiate studies and a career.
Whatever the reason, students will benefit the most when they have, with the consultation with parents, guardians and school personnel, exercised their free judgment, rather than succumbing to an overly paternalistic automatic enrollment policy.
AP classes must remain authentic, rigorous, college-level classes for willing and academically prepared students who want a college experience before graduating.
Michael Jankanish and Ken Richardson are AP instructors at Tacoma’s Wilson High School.