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Advanced Placement isn't for everyone

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As long-time advocates for public education in Baltimore County, we felt compelled to respond to letter writer Harry J. Cook's view of the Advanced Placement exams ("A different perspective on AP courses Sept. 6).

While we're grateful that magnet schools such as Eastern Technical High School offer quality programs, it's unrealistic to compare this selective, quasi-private school with most county comprehensive high schools.

Despite its name, Eastern Tech is far from the vocational-technical school of old. Its pre-engineering, pre-law and technology programs are designed for highly motivated, capable students and require a rigorous application and assessment process.

The factors considered for acceptance at Eastern Tech — and for being asked to leave — are past academic performance, attendance and disciplinary records. When students withdraw, they enroll in their local high school, which must educate all students irrespective of ability or performance. Naturally, Eastern Tech would outperform typical high schools in AP course work and testing.

When unsuspecting and unprepared students are forced to shoulder advanced course work, the results can be disastrous, as Liz Bowie outlined in her excellent article. Students often "check out," and their GPAs, self-esteem and confidence plummet. Even top-notch students suffer under the pressures of our rigor-at-all-costs culture, with its unintended outcomes of stress, sleep deprivation, physical and mental illness and cheating.

At present, the College Board recommends students for AP based solely on PSAT scores, purportedly "strong predictors" of AP exam scores. This impersonal and incomplete approach does not consider students' maturity, study habits, organizational and time-management skills or extracurricular activities.

Beyond the College Board's marketing propaganda, many students are forced into AP course work when traditional course choices in gifted and talented, honors and standard programs are eliminated — a strategy many schools use to increase AP enrollment.

Differentiated levels of instruction allow all students to craft schedules suited to their individual strengths, interests and time constraints. Increasing AP participation rates must be done judiciously.

Mary Ellen Pease, Leslie Weber and Glen Thomas, Baltimore

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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