In the latest installment of his Advanced Placement fan club, Jay Mathews tries to make the case that other writers and researchers are finally catching up to his 24 years of pronouncements on the subject.
So after more than two decades of underwhelming scholarly interest in this topic, I am delighted to report a surge of serious AP research, with four new studies in the past year and a fine piece by Andrew Mollison in the latest issue of the quarterly Education Next summing them up.
As he consistently does, Mathews puts gives far too much credit to the AP program (and International Baccalaureate, another advanced study program that is not the same – despite Mathews insistence that it is) as an educational miracle worker.
Almost all the new studies show that students who get a good score on an AP test in high school do better in college than those who get a bad score or don’t take AP.
Which only makes sense since AP classes were designed to give students the opportunity to do college-level work while still in high school. But Mathews wants to go beyond that and claim that students who take AP courses and do poorly still go on to do well in college.
While he would like the research to back him up on his hypothesis, Mathews only proof comes from anecdotes about some students from a few AP teachers. Still he persists in the claim despite this finding from one study that he notes in his own article.
But his results indicate, in most cases, that students who take and fail an AP test are not much more likely to graduate from college than similar students who do not take an AP test.
Certainly every student should be given the opportunity to take AP classes. I’ve both taken and taught them and if taught well, they can be a valuable experience for both teacher and student.
What bothers me, however, is that Mathews’ belief that almost every high school student should be taking them, even if they do poorly and don’t pass the end of course exam, is not realistic. Not every high school student is capable of doing college-level work in every subject.
In the overly large school district I work for (and which Mathews lavishes with praise for our support of AP and IB programs) far too many students are pressured into taking AP classes they are not prepared for or interested in. And with the increasing numbers in AP classes has also come the pressure from administrators and parents to make sure everyone passes. After all, we live in Lake Wobegon, where all the students are above average. Unfortunately, this is leading to a watering down of the curriculums and a big jump in business for AP tutors.
The bottom line in all this is that AP classes are not designed for everyone. And, at the risk of being politically incorrect, neither is a college education. Instead of trying to force every student into the same AP mold – college prep is the only way – we need to open high school students to more post-graduation options while offering them a solid educational foundation for whatever they choose to do.