Are AP classes worth it? Absolutely, say some Georgia educators

Teacher Andy Dugger (standing) listens to presentation during his AP US History class at Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Kenneth S. Lawrence is the 2016 Muscogee County School District Teacher of the Year. Christine Hull is director of advanced learning and gifted programs for the district. In two essays below, they respond to a column I wrote about how some schools are questioning the value of Advanced Placement courses and exams.

AP courses are college-level courses created by the College Board and offered in high school. Students have the option of taking a standardized test at the end of the course, which is graded on a 1 to 5 scale. Students can earn college credit from scoring a 3, 4, or 5.

In Georgia, there is a push to get more kids to take the classes and the exams, which are $93 each. (Policies vary among districts as to who pays and for how many tests.) And colleges, including the University of Georgia, urge applicants to take the most rigorous courses offered at their high schools, which are typically AP courses. So, we now have students graduating with as many as 11 AP classes.

Some schools around the country are re-examining AP classes and exams. In DeKalb, school board member Stan Jester recently questioned awards given to school districts based on how many students take AP exams, rather than how well they do on the AP exams.

He said: “At best, it is giving people a false sense of progress and success at their school. At worst, it undermines instruction in both AP and non-AP classes. There is also the opportunity cost. This money could be redeployed to another use that did produce an increase in student success in some way. What is absolutely, specifically clear right now is that the AP exam pass rates at many schools in DeKalb are a robust indicator that something isn’t working well with the district’s emphasis on AP courses and their exams.” (Despite Jester’s doubts, DeKalb remains committed to AP.)

I invited Georgia educators to share their view of the worth of AP to their students. Here’s what the two Muscogee educators had to say:

By Kenneth S. Lawrence

Are AP classes and tests worth the investment?

Jihira Lipford, a freshman at Kennesaw State University, thinks so. In a recent conversation with my former student, she seemed shocked this was an argument that had garnered any traction.

“I can’t believe people think that free money for school is a bad idea,” she said.

Jihira was referring to the nearly  $1,000 she saved by scoring high enough on her AP English Literature exam to satisfy her freshman English credit at Kennesaw State.

We have become a very “bottom line” society. We are constantly asking what gets the job done and what does not. For Jihira and thousands like her, AP exams have done the job of making college more affordable, while preparing students for success in college and life.

Jihira expressed regret in not taking more AP exams while she was in high school, “I have a friend that I met here at Kennesaw who was basically a sophomore upon entry because she scored high on multiple AP exams.”

Money remains a major stumbling block for students (especially from low socioeconomic backgrounds) in attending college. Upon being named AP Coordinator at G.W. Carver High School in Columbus, my first goal was to increase the number of students who took AP exams. I knew the $93 exam fee would be problematic and was elated to realize the state would pay for one exam (with each additional exam coming at a reduced price).

With these funds we were able to increase our numbers of exams taken from 6 to 95 in my first year. Carver increased from 95 to 135 exams taken the next year, and we earned the 2016 Georgia AP Champion Award in the process. In Muscogee County, our mission is to inspire and equip all students to achieve unlimited potential.

AP exams assist us in accomplishing this goal and students like Jihira are the outcome to which all districts should aspire. Through our state’s dedication to a similar vision, we were able to help multiple students have access to college at a cheaper rate, while simultaneously fortifying their own efficacy for college success.

Isn’t that the goal of education, to provide a more rich experience for all students? AP coursework and our investment in it is not “false progress” because Jihira and students like her are real. Investment in AP does not undermine education, it undergirds it.

By Christine Hull

In response to your question regarding the return on investment from AP courses and exams, we would like to offer positive feedback as we have seen great gains from growing AP opportunities throughout Muscogee County.

We have increased the number of AP exams students have taken by 37 percent from 1,536 in 2012 to 2,013 in 2016, and we expect to see a rise in test takers this May as well.  We have also experienced a 27 percent growth in students who scored a 3 or higher from 2012-2016.

Alongside this data, we have increased our composite SAT scores by an average of 22 points over the past five years as well as our graduation rate from 76.6 percent in 2014 to 86.1 percent in 2016. We know that our participation in AP programs has helped us increase rigor, prepare more students for college, and improve our graduation rates.

In addition to this quantitative growth, we also would like to share some qualitative, personal examples of how AP aids our students in their educational careers and in life:

Derek Huell, a junior at Columbus High School who has taken 10 AP courses to date, says, “The rigor of the AP curriculum has allowed me to truly challenge myself and expand my knowledge significantly quicker than any other portion of my academic career.”

His peer, Vivian Wu, also a junior at Columbus High School who has taken nine AP courses, says, “Before taking AP classes, I found that ordinary classes were lacking in both material and benefits.”

Lisa Mills, an AP teacher at Columbus High School, points out, “Research indicates a direct correlation between completion of AP courses and success in college. Each year, after taking the SAT, many of my former students thank me for the material they learned in AP English Language. The AP program is not about the exam and/or score, but it’s about what students learn in the process.”

At Northside High School, a school that increased the number of exams taken at their school by 114 during the previous school year, Romie Ingram, a junior who has taken six AP courses, says, “You’re surrounded by people who want the same level of challenge, and it’s a balance between keeping up with the classes, but also being in classes that keep up with you. My AP peers don’t take their education for granted, and that motivates me.”

Her AP English Language teacher, and a Top Three Teacher of the Year for the district this year, Tabitha Ginther, says: “The beauty of AP is that it truly demands (and provides resources for) teachers to complicate their students’ thinking — to take the world in which we live and look at it through a critical lens. The experiences they have in their AP courses help groom them to be savvy consumers of information and help them develop skills to be independent thinkers and doers and dreamers.”

Michael Lynch, an AP calculus teacher from Spencer High School says, “For our students, a major benefit of AP classes is the fact that they are surrounded by students who also have chosen to take the course with the greater challenge. They have bought in to the idea that being challenged with a tougher work load will, in the long run, have the greater payoff. ”

We hope that you will take into consideration our position as a district that we have seen only positive outcomes from participating in what AP offers.

 

Reader Comments 0

53 comments
kdbugalpha
kdbugalpha

One unmentioned consequence of the prioritization of AP classes is that teachers that teach both AP and regular college prep classes neglect the students in their regular classes. AP teachers in the top state high schools will be measured on how many students pass the AP exam. Those teachers will spend a lot of time preparing for their AP classes, grading and correcting those students' papers, essays, and tests. As a result, they dont have much time to grade papers and essays written by their college prep students.


My son attends one of the top public schools in GA. One year his Lit teacher was also an AP Lit/Lang teacher. He never got his assignments back. The one research paper he had to write was not graded until 2 months after the deadline, one week before the end of the semester. It seemed like 2 months of assignments were quickly graded in mid May after the AP students had already taken their exam. My son liked his teacher, but he didnt learn what he needed to learn because her focus was on her other classes; he didnt get any feedback on what he needed to work on. When that Lit class took the 11th grade Lit Milestone, most students in that class scored in the 3rd category  of Developing Learners. This is how the Milestone describes that category: Developing Learners demonstrate partial proficiency in the knowledge and skills necessary at this grade level/course of learning, as specified in Georgia’s content standards.  The students need additional academic supportto ensure success in the next grade level or course and to be on track forcollege and career readiness


A top Newsweek school and yet the state's own test says a significant number of its students were not ready for college. This  is at an AP Scholar school with one of the highest SAT averages in the state.The school prides itself on its AP and College Board success. It should be an embarrassment to a school that sends 95% of its grads to 4 year colleges that its regular College prep students are not prepared for College English.  My son earned a 10/24 on his  the new SAT essay that year. Think twice parents before you spend the $ to buy a home that will allow your child to attend the supposed best public schools unless your children are already brilliant.  The best schools are really two tiered; the outstanding performance of the top 40-60% with 1400+ scores hides that some students have to take SAT several times to earn an 1000. My son took his Math scores via virtual school-scored 75%+ on math SAT; son took English at one of the best schools in North Fulton-reached 45%ile on his 3rd try.


If your student wants to take an AP class, he has to decide in January before the class would start in mid August.  What if the students improves a lot over the summer? Too bad. There are strict criteria for minimum grades to get in the AP class. There are kids that take 5 APs a year, and other kids who would be denied the chance to take any AP.  B students would be better off at a above average but not "excellent" school where anyone who want to try to take an AP would get the chance and have the support. At son's school, I would not be surprised if 40-60% of students had taken 8 or more AP exams, but 20-40% had not taken a single AP exam. Son has an older sibling who took 5-6 APs and  scored 3+ on all of them.  The students who arent in the top 40-60% hate the intense competitive nature of the school; my son begged to be homeschooled.  I had 3 kids at that school-only one would chose it again given a redo.


AP  courses are great to prepare students for college and to save them money by earning credits. But  schools should not offer AP courses if they are going to neglect the students who are not quite ready for college in order to lavish their attention on students who were already achieving SAT scores in the top 30% in 7th or 8th grade. It's like a reverse Robin Hood-taking teaching resources needed to prepare the B students for college in order to enable the top students to earn a year's worth of college credit from their 10+ AP credits

it's only luck
it's only luck

I have enjoyed reading the debates over the role of AP classes in our high schools.  In the above article, Ms. Hull says the number of students taking the AP exam has increased 37% from 1536 students taking the exam to 2013.  The number of students scoring a 3 or higher has increased 27%, yet no numbers back this percent. Did ten, fifty or a thousand students pass the test?  Please provide this number to validate your point.


A student who has taken ten AP courses as a junior most likely has taken AP courses since ninth grade.  I don't know many students who are ready for true college level rigor their freshman year of high school.  


Our high school can boast similar statistics.  We made our options for certain classes either AP or regular.  We eliminated the option for honors.  More than half of our students will be enrolled in at least one AP course.  In reality only a handful of students will take the exam and only a small percentage will earn college credit.  


I taught an AP course one year.  I was questioned too many times by administration and parents about the difficulty of my class.  Giving students 80's when they were accustomed to making 90's was frowned upon.  Failing a student, forget it.  I have compared the failure rate of students taking AP courses in high school to the number of college students taking the same class in college.  Failure in our high school AP classes is almost non existent.  


Finally, I do not know why a student would prefer an AP course over the option of Move On When Ready.  There is no cost for the course and no cost for the exam. 

Robin Cathcart Mathews
Robin Cathcart Mathews

As a private school teacher, I'd like to see the number of AP's taken limited. The amount of stress I see in HS students is unhealthy. Additionally, many students take them for the GPA boost and don't care about the exam or if they do well. I'd also like to see no GPA boost for Honors and AP classes; then the students self selecting into them would be the ones who really enjoy the subject and want to be challenged. Too many AP classes are drill and kill, not the way people should be taught.

Lisa King
Lisa King

Heather Simpson Duncan.... Interesting read.

Heather Simpson Duncan
Heather Simpson Duncan

Read it all. I'm so torn about this stuff but I do know that the more selective schools my children attend look very favorably on AP, they will only accept 5s. No one has mentioned IB, I would love to see that in our high schools. Though we they take and pass their AP Exams, I have asked my children not to take the credits for certain courses because taking a course in high school vs college is very different in the emphasis on what one needs to truly know. For example JAIRE entered with the option of have 43 credits we only used 9. Jazz will enter with almost the same we haven't decided how much we will use as yet. My point is, we use it to introduce the children to the rigor necessary for college course success, competitive applications as they applied to certain schools, and scholarship opportunities.

Tambra Jackson
Tambra Jackson

MOWR should make AP obsolete. College Board has made millions off high school students and their families for years. The benefit to MOWR is that the student's final outcome isn't tied to one nearly $100 exam. It rewards students for their hard work. Period! BTW, I've taught AP Spanish Language and Literature classes for 20 years. My two oldest kids did both MOWR and AP and entered college with almost 30 credit hours. My next kids will only do MOWR. College Board is a racket, making money not only through AP, but also SAT and PSAT. Do your family a favor, take the SAT or the ACT or both, but more importantly, have them take the ASVAB, the FREE military exam that will better and truly guide them to evaluate their aptitudes and toward careers they will find satisfying and relevant to their interests and goals. It doesn't commit you to the military, but it is an awesome guide for young people!

kaelyn
kaelyn

DeKalb County is more interested in cooking the numbers than reality. Most of our schools don't even have twenty percent AP exam passing rates. The "celebrate" mere enrollment in AP classes, which makes no sense. The administrators in these schools will tell you that it's just darn dandy that the kids are sitting in AP classes, even if they don't pass the exams. I say it's a load of you-know-what. What's the point if you can't pass the exam?

AP classes are what advanced classes were twenty years ago. You HAVE to enroll your kids in them in certain schools if you want them to learn anything. The trouble makers are even in the advanced classes, and the school's push any and everyone else into AP classes so their numbers look good.

downward_spiral
downward_spiral

My neighbor's son took 17 AP classes at our local public Cobb County high school, but only "passed" a couple of the AP tests with a 3 or higher.  Didn't take the tests for most AP's because he didn't feel prepared.  On the other hand, my child will have taken only 5 or 6 AP's by the time he graduates from private high school.  Every single student taking an AP in his school MUST take the AP test, and the pass rate of 3 or higher is very close to 100%


In my opinion, taking an AP class is pointless and worthless if you can't pass the test at the end.


It's a shame public schools water down the content. The students are the ones who suffer.

Paper8oy
Paper8oy

It's always been around.  In DeKalb County 1960's we had 3 castes; basic, intermediate and Advanced.

OdessaHooker
OdessaHooker

Does AP American History include the history of slavery in America? If not, it's inaccurate. All American history books should include the entire history of the United States, including the fact that there are only two groups in this country who are NOT immigrants: Native Americans and African Americans. 

Native Americans were here when Columbus 'discovered' the country; African Americans were brought here to build the country without the benefit of minimum wages.  All other groups are immigrants! 

Paper8oy
Paper8oy

@OdessaHooker History is determined by who holds power. People don't believe we went to the moon. They think Nazi's gave lollipops to babies in gas chambers; the world is flat and the GOP is good for Americans lives.

Grob_Hahn
Grob_Hahn

@OdessaHooker  It's all there, crack a book and you'll see it.  Black American history is wedged into every subject possible these days, even accounting and geography classes.  You're not being neglected.

Starik
Starik

@Grob_Hahn @OdessaHooker In a sense, black folks became immigrants with the Civil Rights Act; that was when these involuntary immigrants were allowed to assimilate like the other groups.

BRV
BRV

Who knew that Sleepy Ben posts here? People familiar with English and who aren't desperate to make some sort of inane political point understand that the common usage of immigrant is someone who is migrating voluntarily. That might be why we've developed other terms to express the concept of forced or involuntary migration, but please carry on with your nonsense.

bu22
bu22

@BRV Actually it was the first poster who was making an inane political point and wasn't familiar with the English language.  Carry on with your inane taking offense at everything, but it can make your life miserable.

high-school-teacher
high-school-teacher

AP classes are a great option for our students. My concern is that students take too many AP courses in an attempt to gain entrance into prestigious colleges (the same ones who claim that community service is much more important than course rigor but who remain very selective in their admissions), and they don't allow themselves to enjoy high school. Kids are too stressed as high school seniors. In our house, we only allow our son to take 2 AP courses per year. He is in band, plays tennis, and is involved in several extra curricular activities, which to us is much more important than 11 AP classes upon graduation.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I believe AP classes and the exams are a worthwhile investment.  They give prospective college students a chance to see what college-level work is all about. They may actually save money by letting some students rethink their postsecondary plans when they find out there is more to it than just showing up. 


Of concern to me could be how many high schools only offer a few APs.

redweather
redweather

@Wascatlady Except, AP classes really don't do that. What they do, for the most part, is promote learning by rote (which is not necessarily a bad thing). 

irishmafia1457
irishmafia1457

@Wascatlady Most majority minority schools AP classes are the equivalent of regular classes in any suburban classroom

bu22
bu22

@Wascatlady How many do you really need?  17 as with the neighbor's kid?????  Even top high schools didn't offer very many 30 years ago (maybe even 20) and the kids who took them almost always took the placement test.

teacheralso
teacheralso

@redweather @Wascatlady I teach AP Lit and Comp and I can assure you there is no learning by rote in my class.  Students are taught to look at a piece of literature they have never read before, analyze it and write an essay defending their analyzation.  They have to learn to think for themselves and to write a smooth, stylistically intelligent response.

StanJester
StanJester

Free Money

I believe it's a disservice to the taxpayer to categorize public services and HOPE scholarships as "Free Money".  Walk outside and look around ... those are the people paying for it.


AP Exams, Dual Enrollment, HOPE scholarship, etc .... are worth it when used wisely.


Freakonomics

I compare AP exams to the Freakonomics lesson "What Makes a Perfect Parent?"  The data says that children who grow up with lots of books at home are more likely to have a better trajectory in life than those children who do not.  BUT,  does just having a bunch of children's books at home sitting on a shelf make for intelligent children? 


No.  


The type of parent who is always going out and buying children's books is more likely to be the type of parent that raises more intelligent children.


We give awards and revel in how many students are enrolled in AP courses and take the exams.  BUT, does just taking the AP exam make for better prepared students?  


No.


It is more likely that students who voluntarily choose to take AP courses and exams are the types of students that are already better prepared and highly motivated.

Starik
Starik

@StanJester These students need to be in schools that suit their needs. Why not have schools in each district with competitive admissions to educate these kids?

JeffTaylor
JeffTaylor

@StanJester Taxing the innumerate via a state lottery to fund the college education of high IQ students is brutal public policy, but I'll take it along with the Free Money it provides. You don't seem it have a very firm grasp of anything education related in the state of Georgia.

JeffTaylor
JeffTaylor

If anything too few quality students are taking AP exams, scared as they are that their GPA will take a hit and drop them below the Zell Miller cut-off (HOPE is pretty much guaranteed for the type of students I'm talking about.) But every college bound kid in GA should try to knock-out 12-15 hrs minimum via AP classes. This will have huge ripple effects for their college years, skip impersonal frosh survey courses, and make it much more likely they will continue to pocket the extremely Free Money of Zell Miller/HOPE scholarships. The only real problem w AP classes is that the liberal arts classes are starting to resemble college seminars more than survey courses as canonical liberal arts survey courses are regarded as too dogmatic and hierarchical by today's university faculty. We then end up with HS teachers trying to run loosey-goosey, jargon filled, where-you-stand-depends-on-where-you-sit AP classes for students who never mastered the underlying objective material. This winds up being excellent prep for college liberal arts classes, but not in a way anyone should be proud of.

irishmafia1457
irishmafia1457

@JeffTaylor Since most classes have to be dumbed down in the PC world, AP classes are actually what regular classes were 30 years ago

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

I wanted to share this comment on the blog itself from DeKalb school board member Stan Jester, who has questioned the push for and investment in AP exams by his district. Stan Jester: "There is no such thing as Free Money. The question is ... is it worth expending tax payer money on AP exams if over 90% of the students are failing them? That is the case at many DeKalb schools. I stand by my assertion that the money spent on AP exams at those schools would be better spent elsewhere."

Cassie Thomason Brown
Cassie Thomason Brown

Why are schools paying for AP exams. Back in my day, parents paid for them. And there were way less then so it would have been easier for schools to pay.

StanJester
StanJester

There is no such thing as Free Money. The question is ... is it worth expending tax payer money on AP exams if over 90% of the students are failing them? That is the case at many DeKalb schools. I stand by my assertion that the money spent on AP exams at those schools would be better spent elsewhere.

Elisa Maria Chiara
Elisa Maria Chiara

As watered down CP classes are now (and often the ones above that as a result), AP classes are one of the few options left for kids who want to be challenged while IN HIGH SCHOOOL.

redweather
redweather

It primarily depends on the students.  Any honest teacher will admit that, whether you're talking about  AP, IB, or dual enrollment. Some students could pass an AP exam without taking an AP class, just as others score a 1 or a 2 having taken the class. There are no silver bullets, no magic formulas, no secret passageways. 

Ed Helton
Ed Helton

The program's need better monitoring. They can be worth it but many are used for students to inflate their GPA and they never sit for the exam.

Elisa Maria Chiara
Elisa Maria Chiara

They only have the grade on a 5 point scale IF they take the exam. I taught AP and I made sure they knew this.

Hayley Greene
Hayley Greene

Where students and parents are receiving conflicting information is which is the best choice - Advaced Placement courses at high school or an academic course at an accredited college or university through Move on When Ready? Some colleges' admissions offices, like UGA, are giving more weight to an AP course than an academic course from a college.

Nikki Jones
Nikki Jones

I have never heard that USA weighs AP more than dual enrollment. Our rep and the material I have all state that they consider those classes equally in regards to rigor.

Renee Lord
Renee Lord

I have been under the impression that more selective colleges and universities prefer AP over college courses taken at other institutions during high school. No one in any admissions office, public nor private, will directly answer the question.

Hayley Greene
Hayley Greene

Nikki Jones, our high school counselors have been told by UGA and other select colleges and universities that AP courses are more favorable for admission than college courses. This is very confusing for students who want to pursue the rigor of college courses through Move on When Ready.

Heather Curtis Shaw
Heather Curtis Shaw

My son graduated with 43 AP credits. He entered college as basically a second semester sophomore, with a full ride. He was challenged his entire high school experience and was more than ready for college. For our family, we are more than grateful that our high school added rigor through AP classes!

Sheri Kaminsky Baker
Sheri Kaminsky Baker

Ruth, I think what she is saying is the AP classes her child took earned him 43 college credits. Depending on the AP score and college a student can earn 0-8 college credits per AP class

Kaycee Norman
Kaycee Norman

They also have the bridge program that starts their sophomore year if they score high enough on the placement exam.

Julie Bestry
Julie Bestry

I got enough AP credits in high school that I could have graduated from Cornell a semester early. (Instead, I took all the fun classes -- two English classes and two writing classes -- and had time to go to random graduate level seminars and lectures around campus without having to worry about grades.) My boyfriend, who'd taken the same classes I had plus two math and three science, earned 40+ credits and could have graduated close to a year and a half early. (He used his extra time to take more advantage of engineering co-op.)