Retreated Placement

When it comes to the transformational power of the Advanced Placement program, Jay Mathews is a true believer. Even if students fail the test, at least they had "a chance to accustom themselves to the foot-high reading assignments and tortuous exams they will encounter in college," he explains. And if college is not on the horizon? They'll still "discover that those AP skills are just what they need to get the best available jobs or trade school slots." The value of the AP experience for individual kids cannot be denied, but Mathews' analysis has a fatal flaw: He ignores the other students in these classes--the ones who can pass the tests and do want to go to selective colleges. Should they suffer through dumbed-down classes to accommodate these trade-school aspirants just for the "experience"? Not necessarily, and many teachers of AP classes agree. In fact, in our recent survey of AP teachers (which, incidentally, Mathews cites--and then ignores), over half argued that "only students who can handle the material" should take AP classes. So when Mathews asks "what harm does it do?," our response is: a lot. "AP for all" can quickly become "truly rigorous courses for none."

"Is AP for All A Formula For Failure?," by Jay Mathews, The Washington Post, June 8, 2009