Grab Your Pitchforks; Drive Out the Absurd AP Program

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Grab Your Pitchforks; Drive Out the Absurd AP Program

If you ever had the inkling that Advanced Placement courses and exams just maybe don’t represent the very best learning opportunity for some of our most enterprising young minds, this should really spur you on to grab your pitchfork, light your torch, gather your neighbors, and drive the AP monster out of your school forever.

This morning the San Diego Union reports that more than 500 AP exams taken at one local high school will be invalidated because the students were sitting at 6-foot long tables, not 8-foot long tables.  Through absolutely no fault of their own, and with no evidence of collusion or cheating, students will be required to re-take the exams this summer. If students can’t or don’t want to re-take the exam, the College Board will refund their $93 test fee. One student is quoted as saying he will have to cancel a trip to Peru.

So let me lay this out in its complete absurdity:  Students sign up to take AP classes, often sacrificing a spot in their schedule for a course that they might actually want to take, because the College Board has done an incredible job of convincing students, parents, high school administrators and teachers, and college admissions officers that these courses are pre-requisite to success in college, even though we know they are not. The myth continues even as increasing numbers of colleges stop giving credit for success on the exams.  The students work hard all year in courses that often sacrifice depth of learning for the single goal of passing an exam.  The students show up for the test, and one proctor mistakenly allows furniture to be arranged in a way that, until two years ago, was deemed perfectly acceptable by the College Board.  The only answer by the geniuses at the College Board is to throw out the exams and make the students re-take it, or collect their refund.  If they can’t or don’t want to re-take the test, that refund is supposed to somehow make up for an entire year of hard study, the stated goal of which is nothing more than doing well on a test.

AP courses played a role in setting standards for college-level courses two decades ago.  For some colleges, they still provide a somewhat useful measuring stick by which to assess some students coming from some high schools where “regular” classes unfortunately do not provide students with a background that prepares them for college. But the AP is a dinosaur that is unfit for the modern learning ecosystem.  AP courses drive high school schedules that limit deep learning and put students into boxes that restrain their own interests and passions.  The AP has become utterly antithetical to what the vast majority of teachers, students, and parents believe constitutes good learning. Two years ago when I asked thousands of school teachers and administrators to imagine “what if” scenarios that would powerfully and positively transform their schools, “get rid of the AP’s” made the Top Ten List.

The AP continues to exist because the College Board has made us believe that it plays an essential role in high school education and college admission. That is just wrong. No school I know of that has dropped the AP has had any drop-off of their college matriculation statistics.  The College Board is able to make us believe this myth because they generate millions of dollars of revenue from an exam on which they have a monopoly that “we” grant them because we are afraid to say no. They use that money to perpetuate the myth.

The College Board should be ashamed of their decision for this San Diego high school. But they should be more ashamed of how they are damming the transformation of K-12 education for the sole purpose of making an enormous amount of money off of the fears of high school parents and students.  

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