The Room for Debate section* of the New York Times web site notes that Advanced Placement programs in US high schools have “grown enormously in the past decade” and ask a couple of good questions.

Does the growth in Advanced Placement courses serve students or schools well?

Are there downsides to pushing many more students into taking these rigorous courses?

They post responses on the topic from six education “experts”, including, amazingly enough, an actual teacher.


Actually, it’s not much of a debate, but there are some good points made on both sides. And the whole thing is worth a few minutes to read.

However, the idea repeated here that needs the greatest emphasis is that there is nothing magic about AP.

Just putting kids into the classes and having them take the tests will not improve American education, no matter how many schools bow down before the “challenge” index.

From Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at a high school a few non-rush-hour minutes up the road from here:

In part, the explosion in advanced placement test takers has been fueled by Newsweek’s annual cover story on America’s 100 Best High Schools, a listing arrived at by dividing the number of tests given at a school – regardless of the test results – by the number of students in the senior class.

Given the pressure of those rankings, maybe school administrators can be forgiven for beating the bushes to find students to take A.P. exams even if those kids do not have the remotest chance of getting the kind of score that will give them college credit. (A.P. tests are graded on a 1 to 5 scale. The most selective colleges only give credit for scores of 5, while almost no college gives credit for a 2 or a 1.)

And from Saul Geiser, a research associate at the Center for Studies in Higher Education, University of California, Berkeley:

Yet mere enrollment in AP classes (unlike A.P. exam scores) is not a good indicator of how students will perform in college. In extensive studies at the University of California, we have found that while A.P. exam scores are strongly related to student success, the number of A.P. classes that students take in high school bears almost no relationship to college performance. The key is not simply taking A.P., but mastering the material.

That last sentence pretty much says it all.

* I suppose I should mention that the Times includes this little rantfest in the education section of the Room for Debate blogroll. Still don’t understand that decision. :-)