Staff editorial: AP classes should be geared toward learning, not just passing AP tests

March 27, 2015 — by Ashley Chen and Ariel Liu

Last year, more than 500 students took almost 1,300 AP exams, which amounts to an average of one AP test for each student at the school. Of those students, 93 percent received qualifying scores, which means they will probably be guaranteed some sort of credit for their work if they attend a state system

Given this reality, it may seem natural for AP teachers  to tailor their curriculum to having their students achieve for a perfect score of 5 on the tests. This test-focused mind-set, however, undermines the quality of education students can receive.

Last year, more than 500 students took almost 1,300 AP exams, which amounts to an average of one AP test for each student at the school. Of those students, 93 percent received qualifying scores, which means they will probably be guaranteed some sort of credit for their work if they attend a state system

Given this reality, it may seem natural for AP teachers  to tailor their curriculum to having their students achieve for a perfect score of 5 on the tests. This test-focused mind-set, however, undermines the quality of education students can receive.

The AP exam is a four-hour test that induces both anxiety and hand cramps. When teachers use an excess of practice tests and stick with content only within to AP guidelines, it’s inevitable that more creative activities or in-depth information will be shut out.

Too much emphasis on AP tests may also serve to “dumb down” classes. Without naming any particular subjects, the fact remains that some students are able to successfully cram for an AP test, which is supposed to be a semester-long college course, during spring break and receive a qualifying or even full score.

The inevitable conclusion is that for AP classes to truly mimic the college experience, they must be more rigorous than the AP test itself. If an AP class is reduced to a test-prep vehicle for one day in May, students will be shorted on the richness of content possible in every subject.

If, however, the AP test is just a natural conclusion to a challenging year, students will be able to experience a class that isn’t taught to the test — and still know enough to take the AP test and do well.

Another point to consider is that for some students, the AP course they take in a particular subject may be their only introduction to the subject. Such classes include AP Computer Science, which only recently gained a very popular introductory class, and AP Environmental Science. Students whose only exposure to a topic is “that hard class where I had to memorize so much information” will not be likely to pursue it in the future.

One reason teachers may feel pressured to focus too much on the AP exam is that they can feel that their own performance as teachers is measured by their students’ pass rate since those numbers are known to administrators and others.

Despite such pressures, classes like AP Language and Composition (Lang) and AP Literature (Lit) spend minimal time preparing for the AP test itself, yet consistently produce students who perform well on the AP exams.

These successes show that the fears of students performing poorly are generally unfounded.

In an atmosphere that is as academically stressful and competitive like Saratoga High’s, it is integral that we strive to emphasize true learning over test preparation. Our society is already defined enough by numbers as it is. A score of 5 should not be the end goal; rather, we should aim for deeper knowledge and understanding.

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