Get rid of AP classes

By Saj Sri-Kumar

Is there really only one way to teach college-level French? Are there really only two types of college English classes?

Well, no. Then why do so many high schools pretend that the answer to those questions is, in fact, “yes”?

Like many other schools, Harvard-Westlake teaches in line with the curriculum of the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program. This curriculum only serves to restrict what teachers can teach in class, preventing them from teaching what they think is more pertinent material and forcing them to teach things they may find unnecessary.

Should a teacher want to teach more material than is on the AP exam, very often they don’t have the time.

In Harvard-Westlake’s AP Spanish Language, one out of every four classes is dedicated to practicing the speaking section of the exam, where students have to learn how to hold a conversation with a recording, a skill that they will never use again.

That time could instead be used for learning more about Spanish culture or learning more useful vocabulary, but unfortunately there’s no time for that.

I can see the value of teaching AP courses in a public school district where the district wants to make sure that all students are taught the same material.

But at an independent school, we don’t face the same constraints. We have great teachers who are likely better judges of what material students here should learn than a committee that has to balance the interests of all schools in all regions of the country. Moreover, unlike other schools, Harvard-Westlake doesn’t need AP exam scores to demonstrate to colleges that its courses are at the proper level; the school is well-known for having rigorous courses and a class designation of “honors” or something similar would certainly suffice.

I’m not saying that students would have to be prohibited from taking the AP exam.

On the contrary, I have no objection to students taking the AP exams even if they aren’t in courses geared toward the test. Students might have to look over some material that wasn’t covered in class, but that’s a small price to pay for better classes with more interesting and more useful material.

Eliminating AP courses would also allow more time for teaching and would reduce the workload of many courses. As it stands, AP courses have to cover all of the material by the end of April to prepare for exams during the first two weeks of May. Afterwards, AP classes (with a few exceptions) simply end. If we eliminated the AP designation from many of the courses, teachers would have up until the end of May to teach.

Courses would become more relaxed in pace as the material could be spread over a longer period of time, and students would be less stressed as a result.

Of course, eliminating AP courses would not be easy to do at first. Courses would have to be redesigned and the administration would likely have to deal with strong parent criticism.

But if the school has the courage to eliminate AP classes, the benefits will soon become apparent.