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AP classes are often misused [Letter]

As a retired AP English teacher, I appreciated Liz Bowie's extensive discussion of the current misuses and abuses of the College Board's AP program ("Some parents, educators rethinking the role of AP," Jan. 18).

I participated in national AP conferences in Los Angeles in 2003 and Houston in 2005. On both occasions, one message consistently came through loud and clear: From the College Board's point of view, the program is not about taking and passing the AP exams. It is intended to create a special atmosphere, a learning climate for high school students looking for an educational experience more challenging than they find provided in their high schools' honors courses. That is why many schools offer AP classes as electives, without the screening usually found in Gifted and Talented programs. "Advanced placement" in college is frequently a possibility, but it is not the primary purpose.

One of the more enlightening presentations I attended was given by an English teacher from California whose five sections of AP English Literature and Composition were all filled on an open enrollment basis. Seniors were allowed to take the course because they wanted a more rigorous classroom experience. The teacher also counseled them in the second semester about the relative advisability of their taking the AP exam in May. Approximately 80 percent did not.

For students to take such courses simply to enhance their college applications or class rank is pure puffery. For high school administrators to push unprepared students into AP enrollment, and then not to allow the overwhelmed to withdraw, or to make taking the AP exam a course requirement, should be professionally unconscionable. Shame on both groups for twisting the program into something other than an opportunity for highly motivated high school students to challenge themselves, especially if it comes at the risk of adding stress to their personal lives.

George W. Nellies, Towson

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