I grew up in the Chinese educational system. During the eight years I spent under that system, I witnessed one of the cruelest things a school could do to a child’s self-esteem: rankings. In our grade of 600, we were all ranked by our scores on every single test, from number 1 to number 600. Those rankings would be available for everyone to see, so we could easily discern who was the “smart” kid and who wasn’t. All our hard work, all our struggles, and everything that made up who we are as kids were reduced to two numbers: our grades and our rank. It was brutal. So competitive was the environment there that I never cared about the essence of subjects – only if I was good at it.
I never found my passion for learning until Blair. My freshman year went great: I could actually say I liked all my classes. My high school career was going so well that I didn’t expect the blunt force of impact that would be junior year and my APs. I used to see APs as a college prep booster. My goal was to take as many APs as I could and try to get a 5 for every one until I found out what was happening at Collegeboard. Every school that offered APs was just a toned-down replica of my middle school environment. They were all so centered around grades that no one cared about anything else. I realized that APs are a huge hindrance to authentic enjoyment of learning.
To better prepare for the AP test in early May, teachers focus more class time on preparing students for the test (e.g. assigning multiple-choice questions (MCQs) as homework, reviewing frequently-tested concepts, etc.), which heavily limits the curriculum. But in truth, MCQs and free response questions (FRQs) do little to foster a healthy classroom environment. The mere notion of test-taking means that Collegeboard is diverting the attention of students from learning in order to get a 5. There’s also no real practical use for being able to do a few dozen multiple-choice questions correctly, so why are we so adamant about them?
Perhaps the end goal of a test gives students a sense of urgency and helps them focus in class, but what is the end goal? In reality, the AP curriculum is not as college-worthy as many think it is: 5 means barely anything in college. Some universities don’t even accept APs as college credit, not even a 5. One such reason is that university courses are inherently different from APs, which are, at their core, simply more advanced high school courses. Abolishing the AP would give schools more freedom and flexibility with course offerings, for instance, biotechnology instead of AP Biology, or truly college-level literary studies instead of AP English Literature. Students would also finally have a chance at choosing the courses they enjoy without being limited to APs just to look good to colleges.
Even if one argues that APs offer all of the above, the issue of feasibility remains. Teachers have to cram 180 days of schoolwork into 100. Realistically, there is no way to prepare students adequately for the AP test. So why offer the course at all if students have a high chance of failing the AP? And if the AP test is made optional, then why make the course AP at all? Why not teach something more advanced with a wider, more interesting, and engaging curriculum?