Written by Lisa Hao
With Advanced Placement (AP) testing season just around the corner, 733 Gunn students have already registered for their May exams. Not all students enrolled in an AP course, however, choose to take the exam. While the decision to register for AP exams should be an entirely personal choice, Gunn now requires prospective AP students to agree to the following statement for the 2016-2017: I realize that by enrolling in an Advanced Placement course I am expected to take the corresponding Advanced Placement Examination in May. This new addition to the AP Class Contract forces the entire AP system at Gunn to adopt the same expectations that specific courses—AP English, BC Calculus—already had in place. Although these expectations have good intentions, they do not allow room for personal circumstances and also value AP scores over application of knowledge.
Although people often see AP exams as the grand culmination of all the knowledge acquired and efforts made, sometimes the benefits of taking the exam does not outweigh the losses. The new AP course requirement fails to consider many factors that influence a student’s decision to register for the exam. Financial reasons aside (as Gunn does a terrific job at ensuring that financial barriers are eliminated as much as possible), students still need to consider time, readiness and the potential gains. Students tend to take AP exams mainly because high scores can often earn college credit or advanced placement. Many colleges, however, only allow specific tests and select scores to count as credit or influence placement. Since most seniors will have committed to a university before AP testing, they will also know which exams matter. In most cases, it does not make sense for someone to take a test that gives no credit or benefit and takes time, money as well as effort to accomplish. But since the new AP contract has detailed in writing the expectation to register, students feel extra pressure to do something where the cons outweigh the pros.
We should reject the mentality that tests validate students’ accomplishments.
Additionally, the AP test is not the only useful method that proves a student’s academic success. Although many teachers promote the May exam as a perfect way to demonstrate a student’s improvement, other standards—final grades, general skill improvement, the application of acquired knowledge to real situations and personal confidence—are viable ways to prove that students benefitted throughout their time in an AP course. As a school, we should reject the mentality that tests validate students’ accomplishments, because that is simply not true. The expectation that students should take the test after the course, however, enforces the idea that progress can only truly be measured numerically. The expectation adds pressure for all students to take the AP test, and in turn that pressure translates to the teachers. Teachers want their students to do well; as the current contract binds students to exam registration, teachers will be more inclined to “teach to the test.” A holistic advanced course, however, should not abide by a single institution’s standardized testing rubric. A well taught AP course provides students with skills that apply beyond the classroom and definitely beyond the test.
Although students should not be expected to take the May exam, encouragement is justified. AP tests often serve as a motivational goal for students and one useful measure of improvement. Instead of establishing a misguided expectation to register for the test on the AP Class Contract, administration should state the obvious advantages of a final evaluation. By acknowledging the range of individuals’ unique circumstances, the administration can better support students in their educational journey.