The Tyranny of AP Exams


My grandchildren are breathing a sigh of relief that AP exams are over. They join almost five million other students who took  AP exams. The pressure these students feel makes me wonder. The fact that they’re taking AP exams as freshmen and sophomores makes me wonder. Using the number of students who take AP tests to measure the effectiveness of a given school makes me wonder, too.


I loved teaching Advanced Placement English! I modeled my AP class on the Honors Seminar in Literature that I took at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Only 12 of us were placed in the Seminar out of over 5,000 freshmen. Being in this select group was an honor, a privilege, and a responsibility. I struggled to rise to the occasion, developing close reading skills and more effective and compelling writing. My professor, L. Randolph Wadsworth, was a visionary who had us engaging in Socratic dialogue, teaching each other, and reading and writing at a furious pace. We met off-campus and the level of discussion shaped my desire to teach English.


How can freshmen and sophomores do close readings and Socratic dialogues at that level? Should they? Isn’t that level of intellectual exchange a product of growth we foster in the early years of high school?


My grandchildren will graduate from high school with many AP credits and AP tests on their record. It looks like our grandson could graduate in three years if his university gives him full credit. Is that even a good thing? Economic savings, to be sure, but what would he be missing by cutting his college experience short?


My students might have groaned when I’d begin an opinionated statement with, “If I ruled the world…” but if I did, I would reinstate Advanced Placement courses as a culmination of high school studies to aspire to, a transition to college seminars, not a series of hoops to be jumped through all four years.  I’d take some of the pressure off these high school students, too many of whom are already struggling emotionally. And I’d continue to work to make all high school classes demanding and fun, to lead students to a fulfilling sense of accomplishment that doesn’t require a national test to prove its existence.

2 thoughts on “The Tyranny of AP Exams”

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