Advanced Placement (AP) classes are a big topic of discussion if you have a kid entering high school, as I do. At orientation in January, the principal of the high school my daughter will attend said that every kid should take AP classes in high school, well, at least one but there was encouragement to try more. Last week, I was talking with my mailman about his daughter's college selection and he stressed the importance of taking every AP class possible. I wondered if all kids are really capable of completing college level work in high school.
All this had me wondering about the proliferation of AP classes in high school. Turns out that yes, AP class offerings have exploded since the dark ages of my high school years. (And I don't think 1994 feels like that long ago, but I'm pretty sure my kid things we were lucky to have electricity.)
Slightly more than one million kids took an AP class in 2003. In 2013, that number has jumped to 2.2 million students enrolled in at least one of the 38 available AP courses, according to the College Board.
Are they are a good idea for every kid? Is it wise for kids to take every AP class possible?
Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says "no" to that last question.
He answered my question in this New York Times article, "What I tell students, and my own kids, is that you don’t have to take every advanced class. My high school daughter, for example, is taking advanced math and science courses but chose not to take advanced English and history. You should challenge yourself. For some students this might mean taking the most advanced classes, but it also might mean taking the most advanced classes appropriate for that student, and not spreading themselves too thin.”
So, like most parenting questions, the answer is a big, fat "it depends." Factors to consider when enrolling in AP classes include your child's workload, ability to handle stress, aptitude in a given subject, what their other options are (other honors offerings), etc.
The book Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids by Denise Pope, Maureen Brown, and Sarah Miles addresses the topic of AP classes.
"We found no conclusive data to suggest that taking AP courses makes students more likely to succeed in college, boosts students' chances of college admission, or makes college more affordable," the authors concluded after examining more than 20 research studies on the topic.
Continuing the "it depends," theme, the authors concluded that whether a student has an enriching AP class experience "depends on the teacher and the particular course and their overall world, and how they handle the increased demands of a college-level class."
The note that some schools have dropped AP classes due to concerns about teaching to the test and other negative impacts they can have and instead offer honors courses not tied to the AP tests.
That's not to say that the classes are all bad. They're not. Offering a chance to study at the college level can certainly enhance a high school students' experience, but it's worth noting that the authors of Overloaded and Underprepared say "not all AP classes are the same, and neither are all AP teachers."
What about what my mailman said about needing AP classes to get into college?
That also is a big "it depends," as Schmill's quote indicates. The Overburdened and Underprepared authors also note that "the way this information is used in admission decisions varies greatly from college to college . . . College admission officers at more selective universities often tell future applicants to take a 'challenging and rigorous course load' that includes honors and/or AP courses, but students are often left on their own to figure out exactly what that means and how many and which courses to take."
The way colleges use AP scores also varies, with some granting credit for scores of 4 or 5 on the AP test. That can vary not only by school but by class. (Some have required classes that students cannot test out of.) Other schools allow students to use their score to place into a higher level class. And sometimes students want to take a class they could have opted out of, or they want to take additional classes instead of using AP credit to graduate early.
So, there are a lot of moving parts. And I know that some parents and students swear by AP classes, whereas some schools are doing away with them all together. Like most parenting topics, there's a wide spectrum of approaches, and it's tough to know just what is best. I'm going with the trust your gut, know your kid, and try to get good info from parents who have walked this path at this high school before.
What are your thoughts on AP classes?
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