Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Question about AP

The College Board has just released its third annual Advanced Placement Report to the Nation. It includes plenty of facts and figures showing that more students are taking AP courses and more students are getting higher scores, but also that an "equity gap" persists. Much of the debate around AP courses has to do with whether or not students who take AP courses are more successful in college than those who don't. (The College Board is trumpeting the results of two new studies--which they funded--that show AP-taking students are more successful.) But the question I have is somewhat different. Given that AP courses seem to be playing a larger role in the secondary school curriculum, what are the implications for English educators? More and more frequently, I'm seeing the AP curriculum being held up as a benchmark for what an outstanding literature or composition course should be. Is that perception having any impact on our work with preservice and experienced teachers? What is your view of the AP English curriculum and/or of the role AP coursework and the College Board are playing in shaping English studies?

1 comment:

James Biehl said...

First of all, one must distinguishe between the AP program as described by The College Board and a curriculum. For both of the AP English exams, the College Board furnishes no curriculum. No standard AP curriculum exists, rather there are as many versions as there are AP English teachers.
However, when one considers that the English AP tests are supposed to be the equivalent of a freshman level college English course, one has some sense of the rigor required of the course for high school seniors.
Each AP English teacher is free to establish a course syllabus which entails examining significant literature in the major genres, i.e, the classics of Western civilization, not the pablum which passes for adolescent fiction and thus enervates the 9-12 English curriculum. The course syllabus must also include weekly analytical writing about the literature under discussion. The College Board does not specify which authors need be studied or how much writing need be done. But only a demanding course gives the students a reasonable chance of scoring a 3, 4, or 5 on the test.
Not only should the AP course be the benchmark in any high school English curriculum, but as such it must drive the curricula at the 9th, 10th, and 11th grade honors or college preparatory levels. Without a vertically integrated, coordinated 4-year English curriculum, no AP teacher can offer a course the equivalent of freshman English at the college level. If students coming into the AP course do not already have sophisticated reading, thinking, and writing skills, the AP teacher will likely fail to prepare those students for the May exam.
This is the most intensive, demanding high school course to teach. It becomes nearly overwhelming if the teacher is also teaching 5 or 6 other courses and 150 students.
With all the controversy about testing now in the media, the AP tests--though not perfect--drive curriculum in ways that clearly counter "the soft bigotry of low expectation."
And if you are interested in seeing what one challenging version of an AP Literature curriculum looks like, go to my site: There you can read an extensive description of what an excellent, successful AP lit course should be.