Stop forcing kids into AP

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Tyler Kinzy

A photo illustration of letters scattered around an ‘A’ and ‘P.’

Last semester, my AP English Language and Composition class was instructed to complete a survey regarding access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses. After a slew of leading questions expressing the perceived benefits of the AP program, the survey asked about the effectiveness of various persuasion techniques, to which I replied, “stop forcing kids into AP.”

The Parkway School District has made its desire to increase AP participation no secret. In fact, one of Parkway’s self-set indicators of success that students are “positively engag[ing] in an ever-changing world” is whether or not the percentage of students attempting an AP course grew from the previous year. However, a fatal flaw undermines the proliferation of AP: Parkway’s logic assumes that a uniform path is optimal for every student.

The question at hand is if school administrators, for example, ought to hold conferences with individual students urging them to register for courses whose titles are accentuated by the letters AP.

“A friend of mine got called to [principal Jeremey] Mitchell’s office and he had never taken an honors or AP class before. When Dr. Mitchell encouraged him to take AP classes, his GPA started to drop,” senior Ridwan Oyebamiji said. “I don’t think a principal we might see in the hall once a week will be able to read a student well enough to give that recommendation because AP and honors classes are not for every student.”

Indeed, loading up on APs is a prudent decision for some due to the intellectual challenge these courses provide, the potential to earn college credit–and limit tuition costs–through sufficient AP exam scores or a host of other reasons specific to each student. For others, a certain AP course may not be a subject of interest or further clog an already jam-packed schedule with additional schoolwork and stressors. Either way, it is apparent that assessing the advantages and drawbacks to AP is a process too complex with case-by-case factors to be universalized by a blanket philosophy.

This is before addressing the College Board’s merit as an organization increasingly wielding influence over Parkway’s curriculum for advanced courses. As I can attest firsthand, AP classes, intended to prepare students for a single exam in May, frequently ‘teach to the test.’ I can recall numerous instances of teachers developing lesson plans in strict accordance with the AP Course and Exam Descriptions published by the College Board, guidelines they had no say in creating. Similarly, I have had teachers devote class time to examining the scoring rubrics on AP exams as opposed to reviewing subject-relevant content.

Make no mistake: I am not faulting Parkway’s teachers. Like students, they too have been swept up by the district’s AP wave and are oftentimes left to roll with the punches, including sudden changes to course material and exam formatting that can force them into redesigning classes they have taught for years.

The pressure to comply with district expectations risks students feeling coerced into classes ultimately counterproductive to their education. Rhetoric from the top down has metastasized into a culture of hyper-competitiveness at the student-to-student level, with some of my peers adopting the belief that enrollment in non-AP classes is a sign of inferiority and stupidity. Parkway’s motto, “Higher Expectations. Brighter Futures,” has been falsely conflated with College Board exam booklets. As such, the district must reaffirm that the ideal high school experience looks different for every student.