AP Access in Schools and Rankings

by NYC Firm Schools on July 14, 2009

A Washington Post article on Advanced Placement in Schools introduced some interesting facts and arguments onto the already volatile point of school rankings. The author, Jay Matthews, pens a yearly ranking of Public Schools for Newsweek Magazine, which derives its figures by the amount of students a school sits for the AP exams.

Fifteen years ago, when I discovered that many good high schools prevented average students from taking demanding courses, I thought it was a fluke, a mistake that would soon be rectified.
I had spent much time inside schools that did the opposite. They worked hard to persuade students to take challenging classes and tests, such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge, so students would be ready for the shock of their first semester at college, which most average students attend. The results were good. Why didn’t all schools do that?

The article discusses some interesting points about the benefits and negative factors that abound when using one small factor in reviewing and ranking a school. There are so many other ways that a school can show its success as an institution other than the amount of students sitting for and passing AP exams that it seems faulty to use that as a measuring stick. On the other hand, the much-used discussion in the article talks about those schools that will not let just any student in an AP program, and that is of particular interest, too.

One important reason is that New Canaan, unlike Langley, prohibits students from taking AP courses if their grades in previous classes weren’t good enough. It does not matter how much they want to take the course or how hard they are willing to work in it. Pavia, the New Canaan principal, said, “I do not believe that AP classes are for everyone any more than physics or band or ceramics or football is for everyone.”

The determination and ability of a student to gain access into an AP class in preparation for college should be a vital factor in choosing a school’s suitability for your child.

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