Dump the APs

by Derek Schlom

I am not going to bash the proposed schedule changes, but I’ve been questioning the reasoning behind the decision. Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts has stated that one of her main motivations for advocating the modified schedule is that more teaching time would be allocated for all classes, with an emphasis on preparation for the Advanced Placement examinations. In response, my question is, why are we abandoning a schedule that works to conform to the whims of the College Board? Frankly, if the administration is really looking to make some positive, large-scale changes, they should look toward the root of the problem rather than to the branches.

Instead of changing the schedule for the sake of AP exam preparation, I say it’s time to get rid of AP courses altogether.

I commend Dr. Huybrechts for recognizing the biggest problem posed by AP classes: teachers are forced to cram massive amounts of generalized material into a truncated schedule. But that “solution” conceals that problem rather than rectifying it, like makeup on a blemish — that zit is still there, regardless of the amount of powder you force out of your compact.

I’ll acknowledge that a correlation exists between high AP scores and success in college, but correlation isn’t causation. Harvard-Westlake graduates who succeed in college do so because of intelligence and discipline, not because they took AP tests.

The AP exams that we spend all year preparing for are superficial in depth and bloated in breadth. The multiple choice sections favor those who can memorize factual details rather than grasp their significance, and the free response and Document Based Question sections test the organization of one’s argument about a specific event in the allotted time rather than the strength of one’s argument. An alleged benefit of the AP exams is that they nullify grade inflation by testing students across the country on the same material with the same grading scale, but the test itself doesn’t provide an equal canvas — anyone can buy a Princeton Review prep book and get a 5.

How, then, does an AP exam serve as college preparation if college courses delve way beyond rote memorization and fact regurgitation? We are building the entire curriculum of a course around an exam that offers a mere cursory view of a student’s merit without testing analytical, critical, or research skills.

Why is our school degrading itself to the lowest possible denominator? The goals of classes at this school are supposedly more abstract than what can be quantified on a standardized test, so “teaching for the test” is restrictive for all parties.

Harvard-Westlake is degrading its best advantage — the willingness of students to learn and explore — by conforming to the rigid requirements of an AP exam. Teachers who would like to emphasize or even touch upon any material not likely to be featured on the AP exam face pressure from our current truncated schedule.

Harvard-Westlake “strives to provide an education that enables and empowers its…students to develop their intellectual…gifts,” according to the mission statement. Forcing students and teachers into the narrow confines of the College Board-mandated curriculum limits our intellectual development. Why should the faceless College Board determine what material is worth covering?

I understand the supposed benefits of AP classes and exams, particularly that scoring highly allows one to bypass introductory courses at most colleges. But high school should be about learning in the here and now, not constant preparation and credit accumulation for college.

If the administration is as interested as they say they are in making our lives less stressful, the schedule changes were a step in the right direction but just a little off the mark. It’s not the schedule that’s inhibiting us — it’s the AP exams and the courses based around them.