As a parent I want what is best for my children, I want them to have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and reach their greatest potential. For over 60 years parents and schools have been sold on the notion that AP classes and tests will give children the advantage of college level learning, give them greater access to well ranked schools, and set them on the path for success in college and beyond. Research indicates this is simply not true, and meanwhile millions of dollars are siphoned in the educational system to buy AP test materials, develop AP classes and pay to take AP tests. This is money taken away from the greatest number of students to benefit a small, select group. Resources in terms of teachers, time and money that are supposed to give students an advantage, but that do not guarantee those advantages. That instead, among other things, widen the gap between the haves and have nots, put the decision of what will and won’t be taught into the hands of those selling the test, and have the potential to do long term damage by creating a generation of students who falsely believe they have engaged in college level academics, and who base their value and measure their ability on the extrinsic markers of a test rather than the intrinsic measure gained from advanced levels of intellectual engagement and growth. Some things to be aware of regarding AP Tests and the College Board that administers them. (as well as PSATs and SATs)
- The College Board claims to be a non-profit organization. However, they make money and a considerable amount of it. With nearly half of their profits from administering AP tests and AP test materials. Over 15 executives at the College Board make more than $300,000 a year, and the CEO David Coleman makes over $1 million a year. The College board has a monopoly in the test taking market, with a 317% profit margin. This discredits the college board as a non-profit organization focused on connecting students with colleges and college success. It’s a self interested corporation first, separate from any benefits students gain from taking AP classes and tests. Many organizations including the AETR (American’s for Educational Testing Reform) have lobbied to have the College Board’s non-profit status revoked.
- Money and teaching resources that go to AP classes and tests is money taken from already underfunded schools that are often forced to lay off teachers and cut important programs such as Fine Arts and Music. With a focus on AP tests and improving AP test scores there is a narrowing of resources to a select group, leaving the greatest number of students underserved and even further distanced from the goal of higher education. Monetary incentives come from many states’ Department of Education to schools whose students’ AP test scores are a 3 or higher, this reinforces the importance of just these tests, and these students, over the well being of students and academic caliber of the school as a whole.
- AP tests have inherent biases in terms of race and class. Correlations that were drawn initially between high tests scores and high performance in college and beyond have been proven by research to be false. Since tests and test preparation are most often available in predominantly white, upper/upper middle class schools and communities the greatest markers of success are correlated to these factors. With a widening gap and access to higher education as schools and students who can’t afford access to these materials and tests get left behind.
- AP Tests scores may or may not be accepted at many schools, even if a high tests score is reported. For those students who take the test to lessen the number of college courses they would be required to take there is quite possibly a gap in their learning as the complete experience of engaging intellectually with peers in the college environment is lost. So it will not save time or money in their college experience, and it may cost them in terms of the quality of their education.
- Quite often since test score is the priority, the actual course content of AP classes does not reflect the content of college level courses. An inordinate amount of factual material is crammed into AP classes and curriculum, only to be regurgitated on an AP test rather than engaged in with college level academic rigor. AP test curriculum dominates the curriculum of school courses, thus effectively hijacking what will and won’t be taught in High Schools. Educators from around the country protested vehemently in 2018 when the College Board decided to eliminate all events prior to 1450 from their World History AP Test, thus making the AP World History test completely Eurocentric. The College Board has since changed it’s decision and put back 250 years into the time frame to accommodate world historical events outside pre-european expansion and development. Many of those within groups like the Organization of American Historians consider it wrong to call a course a World History course when it leaves out thousands of years of history, particularly non-white, non european history.
- Finally, the level of pressure and stress increases for students with each AP class and expectations for performance on AP exams. The drive from schools to “load” AP courses is damaging to the overall performance and growth of students both academically, socially and emotionally. With the high cost of testing in terms of pressure to perform and otherwise, outweighing any of the benefits gained from AP courses even if they are taught in an intellectually and academically meaningful way.
Test scores are not a guarantee of success, they are a snapshot, and colleges all over the country have begun to reflect this in their admissions process by going “test optional”. Schools like Columbia, Barnard, Boston University, Bucknell , George Washington, Bryn Mawr, Smith and NYU are focused on the complete picture of applicants, and not a single test score or grade. Some well established High Schools in places like New York and Washington State have dropped AP classes completely stating ” …because AP tests loom so large, faculty teaching these courses often feel pressed to sacrifice in-depth inquiry in order to cover all the material likely to be included on the test. This runs counter to the fact that college courses demand critical thinking and rigorous analysis. AP courses, by contrast, often stress speed of assimilation and memorization. …we are convinced that focusing on a timed standardized test does not promote inquiry or higher-level discussion among students. Moving away from AP courses will allow us to offer a wider variety of courses that are more rigorous and enriching, provide opportunities for authentic engagement with the world, and demonstrate respect for students’ intellectual curiosity and interests.” Perhaps my greatest fear as a mother, and a child and family counselor, is the long term effects of the culture of testing and teaching to the test on young people.
With over 20 years of experience as a child and family counselor I can say with certainty that young people are baraged as never before with external forces and motivations, that influence their behavior and their view of themselves. Those who develop and internalize their self worth or ability based too heavily on external markers like their ability to take a test or make a grade are at risk. In order to have sustainable academic, social or emotional growth and success students must develop internal motivations and measurements, otherwise they are at the whim of constantly mounting forces outside their control to find their value, self worth, achievement and ability.