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Readers Respond

Attack on AP classes earns a failing grade

In his proposal that we allow the College Board’s Advanced Placement program to “move on into a well-deserved retirement,” Matt Micciche of Friends School of Baltimore bases his argument on three assertions that simply are not true (“Is it time to retire Advanced Placement classes?” July 16).

Mr. Micciche alleges that the AP program operates under a “teach to the test” mandate. As an AP English teacher, I learned at my first AP national convention in Los Angeles in 2003 that the AP is not about the test. Rather, it is about creating a challenging, collaborative learning environment. Just as students may take the test without having taken the course, taking the test is not a College Board course requirement.

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Mr. Micciche would also have us believe that the AP program is nothing more than “rote learning” of “deconceptualized facts” and that it locks teachers into a “rigid AP structure,” thus compromising “the ability of teachers and students to apply the skills, knowledge and habits of mind” to “real-world problems and situations.” Obviously, he has little if any familiarity with the program.

Central to the AP program is the AP Course Audit. Each course has its own set of expectations, lists that have been developed by college faculty over the years to assure that the high school AP class experience meets or exceeds its college counterpart. The College Board specifies to participating high schools that “courses should be designed by your school” and that “teachers have the option to create their own syllabus or adopt one of the sample syllabi provided.”

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Thus, for each of the 35 AP courses, there is no “rigid structure” but a set of guidelines to help teachers develop their own program of instruction. A brief sampling of these guidelines stands in stark contrast to the rote memorization of facts suggested by Mr. Micciche.

In AP English Literature, for instance, students are expected to “become skilled readers of prose written in a variety of disciplines,” while in AP English Language they should develop an awareness of the “interactions among a writer’s purpose, audience expectations, and subjects.”

“Instruction in open economy and international trade and finance” forms one unit of AP Macroeconomics. In AP Biology, “a minimum of 25 percent of instructional time” is recommended for “investigative laboratory work.”

Mr. Micciche expresses concern that students be prepared to respond to “the twin forces of globalization and mechanization, along with astonishing advances in information technology.” One of the culminating units in AP World History explores “global conflicts and their consequences” since 1900. Further, a key experience in AP Statistics is the use of “computers and/or computer output to enhance development of statistical understanding.”

Mr. Micciche’s third fallacy is that he ignores the fact that AP exams are not totally in multiple-choice format. Each exam includes what is known as a “free response” section which, in most cases, takes at least half of the three hours of test time. In this section, students are presented with material which, though similar to experiences and materials they have had in their classes, is probably new to them at the moment. It may be a problem to be solved or a thesis to be developed; analysis, interpretation, and response are required in each case.

A good example is found on the 2018 AP Human Geography exam in which students were shown a photograph of a protest banner displayed at an urban construction site. In their response, students were directed to explain two positive impacts and two negative impacts of gentrification on neighborhoods and then explain one way in which city governments may reduce the negative impact. Similarly, AP English Literature students were asked to choose a character in any novel or play who has received a literal or figurative gift which is also, in context, a burden or handicap, and discuss its meaning to the work as a whole. The AP Physics exam posed a timely problem dealing with the comparative speed of two spacecraft in orbit.

Private schools may use their highly selective admissions policies as a means of assuring college success for their graduates. But in the world outside the tier of $40,000 prep schools, there is a great equalizer. Clearly, the AP program is not yet ready for retirement.

George W. Nellies, Parkville


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