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Don't equate AP with academic excellence [Letter]

7:00 AM EST, January 29, 2014

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I believe that all high school educators recognize the importance of challenging our very best students, while simultaneously helping them develop the critical thinking, written and oral communication skills and habits of mind needed for success in today's world. I am not convinced that Advanced Placement courses achieve those goals ("Some parents, educators are rethinking the role of AP," Jan. 18).

AP courses unquestionably provide challenge. But the courses, by design, are narrowly focused and do not cross disciplines. Because the courses are directed toward taking a standardized test created by the same organization that administers the SAT, their focus ultimately becomes test prep and not the fostering of creative, independent thought. The College Board seems to have recognized this and in recent years has begun implementing changes intended to stimulate students' analytical thinking.

I encourage high school students and their parents not to simply equate AP with academic excellence and to explore other options to enrich their educational experience. In particular, the International Baccalaureate — offered at a range of private and public schools in both Baltimore City and the surrounding counties (including City College and Milford Mill) — offers not only challenge and mastery of a subject area but also an interdisciplinary approach that fosters independent thought.

On the same day The Sun ran its story about advanced placement, it also published a piece by University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski stressing the vital importance of university research ("Prioritize university research". The IB program requires diploma candidates to complete an extensive independent research project. The result is students entering college prepared to undertake the kind of work Mr. Hrabowski highlights. According to a University of Virginia study comparing AP and IB students, IB students were more prepared for college-level course work, more likely to have executed research while in college and intended to conduct future research.

I believe in the importance of challenging our best high school students, developing their skills and preparing them for success in college. But we can't simply assume AP courses are the best way to achieve that goal.

David C. Faus, Brooklandville

The writer is headmaster of St. Paul's School.

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