A Reply to Anya Kamenetz and nprEd

In one of your latest articles, “4 Things We Don’t Know About AP Tests”, you discuss some of the unknowns of AP classes; citing there has been little independent research on the subject due mainly to the difficulty in conducting the research successfully.  You then follow with 4 important questions the experts still don’t know about the effectiveness of AP.  Now, this is not meant to be a scathing rebuke of your article and is not coming from a disgruntled AP teacher who feels wronged.  I simply want to offer my “expertise” as an AP teacher.  I do wish, when consulting with experts, you would have included an AP teacher; and if you did, please forgive me, but I don’t see it mentioned in your article.

I would like to further discuss your 4 points from the position of the AP teacher:

  • Your question — Are fewer colleges/universities accepting AP credit?

Like you, I have no direct knowledge of colleges accepting less credit or increasing the necessary score for a credit, but that is certainly the rumor going around AP teacher circles.  And let’s be honest…do you think College Board is going to keep that type of information around if it is detrimental to their cause?  No.  Is college credit a major reason some students take AP classes?  Sure.  Specifically to my students, though, I would say that students are more likely to take AP classes due to the GPA boost that you mentioned earlier in the article.  

  • Your question — Is the encouragement from schools/districts to take AP classes effective?

I certainly cannot speak for all schools, but I know in my school we take special efforts to introduce prospective students to the AP teachers and the material of the AP classes.  This year, I have spoken to hundreds of students who were either somewhat interested in AP classes or I have spoken during specific class meetings to introduce myself and discuss what AP Psychology is all about.  Either directly or indirectly because of this, my AP rosters have increased from one class of 25 five years ago to around 200 signed up for next year’s classes.

  • Your question — Rates of qualifying scores have fallen as AP classes have grown.  Is there still value in taking the class if you don’t earn a qualifying score from the exam?

Although the term ‘value’ is quite subjective, I still say yes there is value to the AP class without the qualifying score.  So much is gained in an AP class that has little to do with passing an exam.  The student who stretches their neck out to take an AP class when they would normally take the “easier” road experiences a different level of class.  Even if they do not pass the exam, the students are still privy to what I’ll call ‘college-style’ classes.  The quickened pace alone introduces students to, what I believe, is a more college-like environment.  I know in my classes, due to this quickened pace, I focus greatly on learning strategies students should apply when learning and reviewing.  Despite their score on the AP exam, these skills can be taken and applied in most classes to increase their retention of material.  

  • Your question — Are there non-cognitive gains to AP classes?  Does self-efficacy and/or intrinsic motivation affect AP enrollment?

Yes and yes.  I believe students gain much more than subject knowledge from AP classes.  Many times, classes become like a little family.  They feel like they’re all in this together and they meet outside of school to study or prepare class projects.  This allows for working on time management, soft skills, 21st century skills, etc.  Also, I know many students enroll in AP classes because of either a specific interest in the class or because of the uniqueness of the class.  Many students tell me my material in AP Psychology is so different than their “normal” subjects and they appreciate learning something outside the normal scope of math, science, language, history, etc.  

While AP certainly isn’t for every student, I do believe those who take the classes experience many positives that far outweigh the negatives.  At least, my experience as a teacher of AP classes has been quite a positive experience and I believe my students have experienced the same.  

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