I am not happy with the results my kids got on the AP Statistics exam. I am looking at the results in more depth, but I keep wrestling with two questions: Who should take an AP course? What is the contribution of the teacher as far as the AP exam score? In previous years, I had informal discussions with many other AP teachers at my school regarding these questions – we never arrived at a consensus.
There are two schools of thought regarding which students should take AP courses. The first is that AP courses should be open to the broadest spectrum of students. The argument goes on to say that even students who score a 2 or less on the exam will benefit from taking a rigorous, challenging course such as most AP courses. According to this school of thought, the AP experience, even if unsuccessful as far as an AP exam grade is concerned, will show the students what college level work means and will serve as a wake up call for those whose attitude and/or performance had been lackadaisical.
The second school of thought maintains that admissions to AP courses should be selective – only students who had previously demonstrated academic maturity should be encouraged to undergo further challenge. If the AP classes are heterogeneous in terms of ability and work ethic, the argument continues, the performance of the class as a whole will suffer since the instructor will have to slow down, repeat and generally not challenge the students as much. This school of thought tends to measure success by the number of 4s and 5s in the exam rather than by passing rate or by non- numerical, “positive thinking” measures.
Through experience and perhaps personal inclinations, I belong firmly in the selective approach school of thought. My arguments are as follows. First, although we could argue – and rightly so – that AP courses are good examples of the level of work required by students in college, it remains unproven that exposure to more rigorous courses in high school leads to change in work habits later on in college. I would argue that if and when students perform better in college than in high school, it is not due to the “wake up call” of high school AP courses, but rather in the fact that students in college are faced with more individual responsibility and a much clearer and more practical relationship between academic preparation and a career.
My second argument has to do with the consequences of poor preparation for those students who come to an AP course without a strong background. The consequences include stress, a lower GPA – perhaps precluding admission to the college of choice – and sometimes parents who complain to administration that “Ms./Mr. X is too tough, my son/daughter never got a C since they’ve been in school”.
Consider the following example. At our school, the pre requisite for taking AP Statistics used to be a grade of C or better in Algebra II. As far as I can tell this is not unusual. Last year I had a large number of students who took AP Statistics without first taking Pre Calculus. Now, for those not teaching AP Stats, you should know that what we teach in Pre Calculus is NOT used in AP Stats – the latter is much more of a conceptual course than the traditional algebraic-based math courses. What happened is that ALL the students that had not taken Pre Calc started having difficulties early on in Statistics. Parents started calling saying how stressed their children were, how they were losing sleep, how their extra curricular activities suffered, how their college acceptance was threatened by their low grades. At the end of the first semester, all these students dropped out of AP Stats. What these students had in common was the lack of academic/math maturity that the extra year of Pre Calc gave the other students, even though this had nothing to do with the actual subject matter.
Obviously this did not mean that having taken Pre Calc insured a student’s success in AP Statistics. However, it did point out that at least one of the prerequisite of success (even if success is only defined as completing the course) is a good academic preparation and maturity.
Finally, instead of a final exam in the second semester, my AP Stats students do a project. One group looked at the performance of AP US History (APUSH) students at our school. Traditionally, at our school, APUSH students are very successful on the AP exam. The pre-req for APUSH is World History. The AP History teachers make every effort to tell prospective students how much more rigorous APUSH is than World and they show the demands for APUSH, including a pretty hefty summer assignment and exam. As a result, most of the C students in World do not go to APUSH (they take the regular US History course). As my group showed, the success of APUSH is directly related to the selectivity of admission in the course.
As far as I am concerned, I changed the pre-reqs for AP Stats for this year – students must have at least a C in Pre-Calc and I added a pre req of a B in English. My class will be half the size of the one I had last year, but I am sure it will be a better class.