Wednesday, January 27, 2010

5-minute Advanced Placement class video

Check out this 5-minute video clip that was featured in the NYTimes Op Ed video library on January 25. "Op Ed: Advanced Pressure." I think every student who takes or considers taking an AP class should see this. I think every parent of every student who takes an AP class should see this. And, I think every AP teacher should see this, too.

My favorite quote in the video clip is from Dr. Deborah Stipek, Dean of the School of Education at Stanford:

“One of the original purposes of AP classes was to give students a jump start on taking college classes, and I think there was some belief that there were some students who were really ready to take college level courses. Unfortunately, it has turned into a kind of gate keeper to many universities. So now it’s not going deeper, really challenging yourself, it’s how many AP classes can I rack up so that I have more AP classes than the people I’m competing with? High school now has become preparation for the college application; not even for college, just the college application. And it creates a mentality that is expressed very well by my daughter who after her AP French test, said, ‘I never have to speak French again.’”

Add to that the insanity of GPA inflation. Imagine a world where the highest possible GPA was 4.0. Well, actually, I lived in that world when I went to college (20+ years ago) and getting into state universities was not nearly as difficult as it is now. Back then, only the brightest students took AP courses in high school and usually because they excelled in those subjects and had a real desire to learn more about them, not because their counselors, parents or friends suggested they take them to add weight to their GPA for college applications.

If you liked this video clip, check out the entire movie “Race to Nowhere. The DVD will include extras like this clip. And, please feel free to pass along this video link to anyone.

Do you have any comments on AP classes, grade point inflation or college admissions?


  1. Thanks for sharing this important video, Kerry. I agree with the AP Biology teacher that some AP courses, especially AP European History, assess student learning through the use of multiple choice tests that require rote memorization of an enormous list of facts, names, and dates. I have been looking into this particular course since my daughter is thinking about including it in her sophomore coursework next year. I prefer the World History 2/3 series taught in the SRVUSD because teachers use themes, issues, and ideas to organize the coursework. In order not to repeat the mistakes of history, students need to be able to understand the causes and effects of international conflicts, for example. Merely knowing the place and date of Napoleon's third conquest will do nothing to further this goal. On the other hand, as an AP English Literature teacher, I can easily argue for the inclusion of this course for high level students. Let's be real - many students choose AP classes because they know they will be learning next to highly motivated students who will not be behavior problems in class. With disrespectful and disruptive students removed from the class, learning becomes rich and meaningful. The moviemaker neglected this important reality. AP Lit. teachers intend to broaden and deepen their students' understanding of literature and the human condition. We are not controlled by a pre-set number of chapters or books or anthology readings that must be completed before the first Thursday in May, but create our courses just like a college professor would. In fact, we must submit these course outlines to the College Board in order for our classes to be certified as AP level. The rigor of the AP curriculum, whether it be for science or the humanities, is not for every student. But, until selective colleges stop counting the number of AP, honors and advanced courses their applicants take, students and parents will demand access to them. And, teachers like me who love teaching highly motivated kids will continue to do our best to provide them with the richest academic environment possible. Reason can exist in this system only if students take AP classes in their areas of strength, or two maximum each year. College students usually take three and sometimes four classes per semester, so a high school student taking 4 AP classes along with 2 more classes has set him/herself up for misery and insomnia.

  2. Nicole DeAvilla WhitingJanuary 27, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    As I met with addmission directors and teachers of several private schools in the Marin County area, during the high school application process for my 8th grade son, I was heartened to learn that many of them are re-thinking AP courses. They are eliminating ones that require volumes of memorization and keeping a few like the English Literature course described in the post above which allow the teachers to be able to teach and gives the students an opportunity to learn something meaningful. I think some of these schools would like to eliminate them altogether but there are still too many colleges that encourage students to take them as well as parents that expect them to be offered.

    I encourage parents to think beyond the college application and think clearly about what is best for their child in the long run. I will be encouraging my son to not take AP courses unless he finds a quality one that he finds exciting and motivating.

  3. Nicole DeAvilla WhitingJanuary 27, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    PS - Kerry, that is my favorite quote from the video as well!

  4. Hmmm...there are definitely two sides to every story but my experience and observations don't necessarily parallel all of what is stated in this video. My daughter certainly didn't take as many AP classes as many students but she did take 4 (1 junior year, 3 senior year) and while they were harder classes requiring more work than the average class, they did not seem to be as much of an overload as expressed by some in this video. I am wondering if maybe the "prerequisites" for the classes need to be revisited at some schools offering AP classes. The AP Biology teacher is quoted in the video as discussing how hard it was to fit in all the subjects required and ensure an understanding of the topics at the same time. AP Bio is one of the classes my daughter took and thoroughly enjoyed, but it was NOT an introductory class at her high school. Students had to complete and do well in both high school level biology and chemistry to sign up for AP Bio, similar to what a college student would have before taking that class. With that background, the course was very doable in 2 high school semesters and the AP test was not overly difficult to score well on.

    I do agree with the video that some students and guidance councilors focus way too much on the "number" of AP classes students take. It's sad that the four AP classes was a drop in the bucket compared to what many peers were taking. In the end, I think it's all about balance and knowing what subjects your student likes, what they're willing to put the extra time into and being reasonable with how many AP the student takes at one time!

  5. I think it's also good to note that students can take the AP tests without taking the AP class. This might be a reasonable alternative for some students. Does anyone have any experience with a student who has done this?

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  9. Wow... I never realized that this is how some adults look at the AP courses that high school students are taking. As a senior in a public high school taking 5 AP classes this year, (Physics, Calculus BC, Psychology, Statistics, and U.S. History) I believe that the AP curriculum has been watered down to almost nothing because of beliefs like this!The "Higher Learning" environment that many students are seeking is almost completely destroyed by average students who simply want to differentiate themselves. The ubiquity of AP classes has forced students who truly love learning to move outside of the classroom altogether and create classes of their own. (several of my friends and I, after exhausting the math curriculum at my school, have resorted to creating a Linear Algebra and AP Java class with one of our teachers)
    The way I see it, the only problem with AP classes is that too many people feel the need to take them, turning them into ordinary high school classes, rather than anything close to college level. I'm sorry if this comment became a bit of a rant, but I have seen too many brilliant peers get knocked out of classes and colleges because of students who have pushed themselves to the breaking point to look good on paper.
    I also must say that I very much agree that AP classes are no longer about going deeper and learning more, but only because of what has happened to regular classes. Every AP class that I have taken is because I have become bored with the curriculum offered to me. I dread going even to honors classes because of their intellectual stagnation. (wow. that sounds really pretentious, but it is the best way I can put it)
    p.s. this is the third time I've tried to post this. I had to cut out about half to fit it all in one post! ;)

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