AP (Advanced Placement)

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at cco.caltech.edu
Mon Dec 1 10:44:10 EST 1997

In article <34819804.60D7 at nospamsalk.edu>,
S L Forsburg <forsburg at nospamsalk.edu> wrote:
>Mary Ann wrote
>> > I cannot see that a tenth grade Biology Class offered as an AP or
>> honors
>> > class which adds to the grade point is substantively educational....
>When I was in high school (early 80s), AP classes were explicitly 
>intended to be the equivalent of first year college classes.  Not
>surprisingly, you had to be a senior to take them, and you had to
>have fulfilled prerequisites...ie, no AP Biology without regular
>Biology or Chemistry, etc.   Almost no one took AP Chemistry 
>because it was so excruciatingly difficult.  

I was in high school about the same time as Susan, and had a similar
experience (except for taking AP American History as a junior).  But,
my senior year I took 5 AP exams.  I had an excellent
Biology teacher, and he had an amazing record on the AP exam:  the majority
of students in our high school who took it got 5's, and the rest got 4's.

But more importantly than that, he was just a really excellent, enthusiastic
teacher.  I was recently talking to a friend who graduated from the same
school several years later, and we both agreed that probably this teacher
was the reason we had both gone on to be PhD biologists.  

In college at Princeton, I placed out of introductory Biology and Chemistry,
and it freed up time for me to take other cool things like creative
writing, Soviet Politics, and history of the middle ages.  I thought that
was definitely worth it.

I thought that the AP program was one of the things that worked pretty
well in our high school, at least academically.  When I took a non-AP
or non-advanced course, it was always depressing--the teachers were more
concerned with discipline than with teaching.

>Now, 15 years later,  high school students want lab experience
>and tell me that they took AP everything, including Biology --  
>but no way do they  comprehend even the basics like the central dogma 
>(DNA->RNA->protein).  They've managed to hit the points on the exams,
>but it hasn't sunk in. And, frankly, they should NOT be exempted from
>undergraduate biology.  MaryAnn rightly points out that this is not
>"real" AP, but degenerates into a prestige issue for the school
>and the student.  Too bad.  

That's a shame if it has come to this--but could some of this be a
difference between California schools and others, not just a time
difference?  I went to high school in upstate New York, but more
recently saw California schools when I was there as a grad student
and postdoc.  It seems to me that Prop. 13 has just ruined California
education by depriving it of needed tax revenue, that no matter how
hard the teachers work and how talented they are, there is only so much
they can do, because resources are just so limited.
>I remember feeling that.  I also remember the popular 
>fallacy that the bright kids benefited from helping out the 
>kids who didn't get it.  Awful.  Fortunately, my high school 
>was "tracked" for some subjects, which allowed everyone to be 
>challenged.  As I recall, they moved people between tracks 
>flexibly. Even so, I remember being often bored and frustrated by
>how slow it went, and thinking that being bright was one of 
>the worst things you could wish on someone. 

I was always "ahead" too, but somehow I never really experienced this
frustration with slowness.  When I was taking those 5 AP courses, I
often felt that I had no time to catch my breath.  Even Princeton didn't
seem like a huge leap into more work, relative to my senior year in
high school.  

I was depressed, not from the slowness of how things went, but from
how quickly they went, how hard it was for me to keep up, and from the
pressure and competition.  Why does it seem that we are stuck on this
see-saw?  Why isn't it more possible to achieve a balance?

I'm just curious, why is it that bright kids don't benefit from helping
out the kids who don't get it?  Why is that a fallacy?  Why can't that
work?  I believe you that it doesn't, but why not?

Naively, I look back on my own high school experience, and wish I had
had the time and wherewithal to have considered helping out other
students more than I did.  It would have been a relief from always 
having to compete with them.  The few times that I did informal
tutoring, not only was it a lot of fun, but it was extremely successful--
one person I tutored went from failing Chemistry to getting in the high
90's on the next test (better than I did), and no, she didn't cheat off of

Karen A.

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