AP Classes and College

Nothing is more fun over lunch than reading old articles in the Washington Post. I came across one about how a number of the elite private schools in DC are going to no longer have AP classes.

I went to one of those schools (NCS), and I took a number of AP classes. Probably the most important classes I took were Calculus BC and Physic C over at St. Alban’s with Mr. Morse, truly one of the greatest teachers on the planet.

The letter regarding the move away from AP classes can be found here.

Here’s the thing– it smacks of privilege. The letter notes that more and more schools offer AP classes and that they are no longer suited to the few advanced students. Great. More students with that opportunity is a good thing to be celebrated. Removing AP classes ignores the fact that having classes that cover college-level material in a small class setting are a great gift, especially for a young woman like me who LOVED math and science but wondered if I would be able to hack it at MIT. Doing well and getting credit for those AP classes meant that I was well prepared. It also opened up my schedule. I could take a lighter load and do more research or graduate more quickly. For many of my current students, finishing a semester earlier means saving tens of thousands of dollars. AP classes and the exams make that possible.

The schools note that AP classes involve so many topics that nothing is dealt with in depth. I went far more in depth in my AP Physics C class with Mr. Morse than I ever did in college in a physics class. Some teachers have been quoted at saying that teaching to the AP test means they cannot do extended hands on experiments. We did extended, hands on experiments with Mr. Morse. We did them in college as well while moving at a break-neck pace. I survived and thrived in that environment in great part because of what I learned with Mr. Morse.

One doesn’t have to take an AP class to take the exam. Taking the exam and doing well is what allowed me to place out of classes and have more flexibility in college. But, I did well on those exams because I had teachers who worked really hard with me to make sure I understood the material I needed to know to do well. Physics came relatively easily. Calculus, to be honest, did not. My teacher in that class was committed to helping me succeed. I doubt I would have survived being an engineer without her. Embarrassingly, I can’t remember her name, but I do remember what she did. She fought all of my self doubt and insecurity, and she prepared me to be able to gut through when I was stuck which was often in college.

More and more college students are trying to figure out how to get degrees without being under a mountain of debt. Offering classes that help prepare them for college and allow them to, potentially, get a head start isn’t sacrificing depth for breadth as the letter writers state. It’s providing a foundation for success.

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