Advanced Placement Courses: The Debate

Image courtesty of C. J. Gunther for The New York Times

Preparing students for college has become one of the main goals of modern high school teachers, and Advanced Placement courses have only gained traction over the years as a result. However, despite the popularity of AP classes in most schools, there is a simmering debate amongst college and high school instructors over their actual benefit. While many educators hold the view that AP classes offer students college credit and an intellectual leg up on the competition, there are some who think that AP classes offer opportunities for pupils to pad their grades and add just another line to a college application.

One of the main reasons for debate over the success of AP courses comes from the effect on a student’s GPA. Most schools grade AP courses on a weighted five-point scale, allowing students with As or Bs in these classes to obtain a grade point average higher than four. Higher GPAs always look attractive to college admissions officers, and the measurement is often a legitimate measure of a good student. Where the debate arises is when the AP test isn’t required for students who take the course, allowing them to benefit from a higher GPA and class ranking without sitting (or paying) for the year-end exam. This practice seems, at best, unfair to students who don’t have access to AP classes or aren’t aware that the test is optional.

An over abundance of AP classes in high schools has also lead to controversy amongst college professors, who believe that the ubiquitous nature of these courses leads to a watering-down effect of the instruction. Too many AP classes with not enough qualified educators often requires the teacher to learn the material along with the students as the class progresses.

While it may sound as if I’m totally against AP courses, I actually greatly benefitted from them during college. I took multiple AP classes in high school, including U.S. History and Calculus, and passed the year-end exams. I gained a full semester’s worth of college hours from my test scores, making my path to a degree that much easier. My hope is simply that institutions realize the mere abundance of AP classes doesn’t equal smarter students or better graduation rates. Quality over quantity is always the best policy.

Read more opinions and ideas about the worth of Advanced Placement courses in The New York Times article The Advanced Placement Juggernaut.

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