AP for all or success for none?
Babies excited to take their first steps first try out their legs by crawling. Painters looking to become modern-day Michelangelos start honing their craft by mixing colors. And high school students desirous of taking college-level English courses, like those offered by the Advanced Placement program, first learn basic grammar and writing. Yet this fundamental concept of sequential progress is too often lost in the “AP fervor” that currently grips American high schools. This week’s case in point is Boston English High, a struggling school (among the nation’s worst) with big-time AP enrollment (within Beantown, it’s second only to Boston Latin). The story of how its AP enrollment surged is instructive. Rather than carefully preparing pupils for the rigor of challenging twelfth-grade classes (starting in middle school or before), English’s teachers and administrators instead force-enrolled students with “potential” in AP courses. This meant an infusion of under-prepared pupils into what should be the most rigorous English course offered at the school—and not surprisingly, many of them floundered. Of course there are benefits to introducing lower-achieving students to motivated peers, quality AP teachers, and rigorous, stimulating content. But when “AP for All” is implemented in a hurry, without attention to preparing students over the long haul to succeed in it, the costs far outweigh the benefits.
“A lesson in Advanced mis-Placement,” by Junia Yearwood, Boston Globe, April 25, 2011.
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