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NYT: Rethinking Advanced Placement

January 8, 2011

The Education Life special issue of the NYT has a big article on Rethinking Advanced Placement.

The article outlines the extensive changes the College Board has announced for AP Biology and AP US History, and mentions that changes are planned to a number of other subjects in future years.

All the changes sound great. More focus on problem solving skills and critical thinking, less focus on facts and memorization. But here’s the quote that leaves me a bit nervous, right at the end:

In many ways, the changes will complete a broad turn for the College Board, from its origins as a purveyor of tests to a much more deliberate arbiter of what the nation’s top students will study. Its exams had already set that agenda indirectly, of course, and turned A.P. classes into a way of life for top students.

Yet as the board trumpets its new plans, it is also acknowledging how much the process had gotten out of hand. Students will still have to put in long hours, and there is no sign that the arms race will slow among students trying to pile up as many A.P. classes as they can to impress college admissions offices.

I’m not so sure I want the College Board to be an “arbiter of what students would study.” I would much prefer to leave this decision in the hands of students, guided by teachers who know them well. And I still refuse to accept that AP must be a “way of life” for top students.

So while I take all this as a sign of progress, much of my original critique remains. I think the College Board is too removed from the classroom, too big to rapidly respond to changes in disciplines and develop a curriculum that can meet the needs of all students without regressing toward the mean. I also think that using AP to drive the college process distorts both the college process and the AP curriculum in unhealthy ways.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2011 9:26 am

    Here are two more posts related to this article in the NYT:

  2. January 15, 2011 10:31 am

    Jonathan Martin, the head of St. Gregory’s in Arizona also posted a wonderful response to the NYT piece in his blog 21K12.

    Rethinking AP: Thank Goodness, but will it be enough?

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