To the Editor:
Bruce G. Hammond (“On Dropping AP Courses,” Jan. 19, 2005) speaks with the voice of a college counselor at an elite prep school.
At schools where there would be a rich, deep, and engaging curriculum even without Advanced Placement courses, the choice to drop them is relatively safe to make. One only has to convince the parents that their students will still have access to competitive colleges. These schools often have specialists to ensure just that (to wit, Mr. Hammond).
However, in struggling schools that choice makes less sense. Although the students in these schools are no less capable than the students of Sandia Preparatory School, Mr. Hammond’s Albuquerque, N.M., school, they often don’t have a choice of AP courses—many times, they don’t have any. For them, one of the best ways to prove themselves is to have their school offer AP classes that end in their taking the exams.
The AP (and International Baccalaureate) exams are the only consistently understood national academic standard in the content areas. I think it is fair to say that a passing score on the Advanced Placement AB calculus exam indicates a decent knowledge of calculus. A student from a school of poverty whose college application has a score of 3 or better from an AP test gets pretty good looks from many colleges. Without an indication that he or she has taken and passed a rigorous high school course, that same student is more often than not stigmatized by the general biases against the quality of education in those schools.
With good AP scores, students are able to demonstrate their competitiveness. It may be the only way.
A unique partnership—the TRUST, or Training and Retraining Urban Teachers, Initiative—between my university, the College Board, the National Urban Alliance, and the Birmingham, Ala., city schools will soon have the data to demonstrate the power of teaching for comprehension in urban schools. We’ll be adding AP courses, not subtracting them.
Michael J. Froning
School of Education
University of Alabama at Birmingham
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as Urban Schools Must Add, Not Subtract, AP Courses