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Do advanced-placement classes challenge kids or inflate grades?

January 24, 2004|By James C. Haught

There are many brilliant students in the Washington County schools. Many of these students have the ability and intelligence to work at the college level. All students should be working hard regardless of their achievement level. As citizens of Washington County, we should be providing them course work that will challenge our students.

Do advanced-placement courses do this?

Why do we have to bribe students by inflating their grades to get them to take accelerated course work? As I understand the new Board of Education policy, a student who earns an A in an advanced placement course receives a weighted score of 5, while a student who earns an A in a regular course receives a score of 4.

That is a 20 percent increase in the value of a grade. If a student took all advanced placement courses and received a B in each course, would that student be equivalent to a student who took all regular courses and received A's? I like the scenario of a senior enrolling in all advanced placement courses; does no work; receives F's and graduates because an F is now equivalent to a D in regular courses.

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What has happened to the love of learning? Do we have to bribe our children to take difficult courses?

Never before in the history of education have children been tested more frequently. There are now counselors from kindergarten to grade 12 to analyze these test results. Do we use these results? Students should enroll in courses that match their achievement level.

Forty-three years ago three biology teachers met with a superintendent of schools, with a proposal to begin teaching college biology at the high school level. He agreed. The course was to follow guidelines established by the Advanced Placement Agency: A college level syllabus, three lecture classes of 55 minutes per week each, and two laboratory sessions of 110 minutes per week each.

The high school principals found this program difficult to schedule. Of the three schools that piloted advanced placement biology program only one school followed the required number of hours. The other two courses continued although they did not meet the requirements. They especially looked good in the curriculum when the Middle Atlantic States evaluation came around. AP courses were expanded to other disciplines. Do we have AP courses to meet the needs of students or to make the school system look good?

Another major problem was who should teach these courses. Would it be the teacher with the highest level of subject content or would it be the teacher with the most seniority? Most college teachers have either a doctor's or master's degree in the discipline they are teaching. Advanced Placement teachers should have at least an up-to-date master's degree in the content area.

Who should be enrolled in the advanced placement courses? One principal who block-scheduled his school put all students who had taken chemistry the year prior into Advanced Placement history. One student had failed first year chemistry and several others had received D's.

Classes should remain small and should contain only the highest level of students. First should be the highest-achieving seniors in the prerequisite course.

If there are any spaces available these should be open to the highest- achieving juniors. Few if any freshmen or sophomores should be in Advanced Placement courses. They should be working on fundamentals.

These questions would be easily answered. The answers would tell us the value of the courses. Give us the answers to these questions.

1. Do all courses follow the guidelines of the Advance Placement Program?

2. How many students are enrolled in each course in each high school? What percent of the total enrollment take Advanced Placement courses?

3. How many students in each course in each high school take the Advance Test in a specific subject area?

4. How many students in each course in each high school receive a 3 or better on their Advanced Placement Test?

5. How many teachers in each Advanced Placement course have as a minimum a master's degree in the subject matter they are teaching?

6. Why is it necessary to inflate the grades of the students to get them into the course?

We need to be asking serious questions of the Board of Education and the central office staff.

James C. Haught is a resident of Hagerstown.

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