AP Program To Change

High school students are always encouraged to pursue more-challenging Advanced Placement classes to better prepare for college and push their intellectual abilities.

But, advanced placement classes are becoming significantly more difficult, pushing students harder, and sometimes losing the main focus of the program according to an article in the New York Times.

The typical A.P. biology textbook has increased from 36 chapters and 870 pages 30 years ago to the current 56 chapters and 1,400 pages, plus additional videos and web-based information.

Even more challenging for A.P. students is the fact that every term, every phrase, every little piece of information is fair game for the year-end A.P. exam that determines if a student receives college credit or not.

The A.P. program has also grown to 30 subjects with 1.8 million students taking 3.2 million tests annually. Many experts have praised the program for giving advanced students a chance to pursue more challenging classes and get a head start on college-level work.

But, other experts have criticized the program – especially the science and history sections – for overwhelming students too much with tedious, mundane facts and rushing classes through important topics. Because of the structure of the program, teachers will not spend an extra 10-15 minutes covering more important material, instead they will attempt to squeeze in every little piece of information.

The College Board, the owner of the A.P. program and the SAT, said that the A.P. program will change. The College Board will reform the history and science programs first, limiting the amount of information that students will be responsible for and providing teachers with a curriculum structure for how classes should be set up and taught.

These changes, which will occur in the 2012-2013 school year, will encourage students to think critically and analytically on major topics, rather than memorizing terms and dates. The College Board will also change the exams accordingly.

“We really believe that the New A.P. needs to be anchored in a curriculum that focuses on what students need to be able to do with their knowledge,” said Trevor Packer, the College Board’s vice president for Advanced Placement.

A.P. administrators said that critical thinking skills are absolutely essential for college classes and competitive jobs after college; so they will try to bring critical thinking back into the A.P. program.

The A.P. program began in 1956 and was originally much more relaxed. Its main goal was to expose high school students to the information they would see in college classes. However, as classes evolved, the program became all about the college credit test.

Teachers would structure their classes so students could score high enough on the tests to gain college credit. Then, more students were earning college credit; so the College Board made the A.P. exam more difficult. Teachers then responded by cranking up the intensity of their classes, forcing students to memorize more mundane terms.

The program then became less about preparing students for the rigor of college classes and more about stacking high school students’ transcripts with college credit.

The College Board has now realized that the program has lost its focus, and it inadequately prepares high school students for college classes and future employment. It’s now time to bring that focus back to the A.P. program, says the College Board.