Advanced Placement or Early Introduction

May 2, 2013 at 9:54 AM Leave a comment

To get kids ready for college, we need to expose them to rigorous courses in high school. Advanced placement (AP) courses are designed to offer college-level material to highly proficient students. But we also need to introduce intellectually challenging content to many students in a non-threatening way. These can be divergent goals. So, how do we address these needs…in the same class?

It’s always a little bittersweet when AP Calculus teachers boast that all of their students scored a 4 or 5 on the AP exam. Congratulations are in order, of course. The teacher’s students have delivered great results under his or her guidance. The concern I have, however, is that admission to that course must have been extremely selective. And that we may be missing part of the goal of college preparation.

We rush to make sure the kids who are strongest in math have access to calculus in high school. But we allow the rest of the kids – weaker in math skills by definition – to wait and face the topic for the first time in college, in the midst of one of the most tumultuous transitions of their lives. The latter group of students would benefit from early introduction to calculus…while they are still in high school. They may drag the average AP exam scores down a bit, but does that matter?

The conflict between college placement and college readiness is somewhat moot – all students will need to be diligent in their college studies. In the final year or two of high school, however, we need to take care of the students who, at 16 or 17, are intellectually ready to grasp complex concepts faster than even above average students bound for college at 18 or 19. This is not a tracking issue – which is controversial when it begins as early as middle school – but more of an exit strategy for students whose variations in ability suggest a dichotomy between advanced placement and early introduction.

As we design new programs for high schools that encourage students to pursue STEM careers, more students will need to be ready for calculus in college. There will be analogous situations in science, technology, and engineering as well. In fact, one could argue for reconsidering our objectives in most AP subject areas. As public school children achieve better outcomes in education, an increasing number of students will qualify for accelerated college courses, but many more will benefit from access to advanced content in a sheltered environment.

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Entry filed under: College Readiness, Pedagogy, Student Outcomes.

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