Saturday, June 30, 2012

People Say AP Classes Are Harder Than College Classes

I have heard this said for a few years and now my homeschool mom friends whose kids have just completed the AP US History class are saying it too: that AP classes are harder than the same content taught at college.

If you are one of the 99% who went to school yourself, take a second and think back to how your teachers communicated to you.

They know the topic and know the test while they are teaching you.

They would say in their lectures that this would be on the test so be sure to take careful notes.

If they didn't use the word test they would say "this is very important".

Sometimes they'd repeat it three times about the same tidbit (which annoyed me to no end- was not once enough?).

When doing review for tests they would say with intonations "You may want to take special note of this..." which was a key that it definitely was on the test.

I even had some teachers that would say, "I will not tell you what is on the test but you should know X, Y, and Z about this topic." Semantics!

Students would ask questions directly to inquire if X would be on the test.

Other students would see the teacher privately to ask if X would be on the test.

Sometimes when I was worried about not understanding something I'd ask for clarification and would be told, "Don't worry it won't be on the test" and they would not explain it to me. Conversation over.

The AP course scope and sequence is defined by the College Board. The AP test is designed by the College Board. There is a huge span of information on the test. The teachers whose courses are certified by the College Board to be designated as an AP course covers so much information. The teachers do not see the test. There is more than one version of the test and you don't know which your student will receive. To teach a complete course seems to me to be a huge task and to get through it in one full academic year seems a challenge. The homeschool courses say 12-15 hours a week or 20 hours of homework a week must be done to get through it all.

Some public schools have compressed their schedule to half-year. So, the AP course would go from August to January only. These classes attempt to cover all that material. That would mean 24-30-40 hours of homework a week for just one class. A friend who is on a Board of Education recently rallied against this schedule saying that the teacher's insistence that the teacher can get through the material in the class time is one thing but the student's ability to do double the amount of homework and do all that memorization of facts is questionable. I would concur that the brain can only handle so much learning in a 24 hour time span and to double the studying just may not work, especially given that most of the schooled kid's day is spent in school and going to and fro, and that they have other homework and still need some hours of sleep! Also let's not forget the issue that some kids are taking the AP course in the fall and not taking the AP test until June!

The challenge of an AP course, it seems to me, is both in the large amount of material that must be covered as well as studying. AP courses also involve analytical thinking and the ability to do analytical writing and to do that in a timed high pressure setting. The hard part is that to teach or learn a complete course to try to cover all the bases the student and teacher have to work extra hard, harder than the college courses. Why?

The college course professor knows what is on the test. They can focus the lectures and homework on what they feel is most important. There is an element of control over content and assessment that the college teacher has which AP course instructors do not have. College professors can and do give hints as to what is most important to learn to help the student realize what is most important to know and what is fluff or extraneous information. Some college professors practically dictate what will be on the test which makes the student realize their responsibility of what content to learn if finite which happens to also make studying easier.

If you have taken a college course you know what I'm talking about: they tell you to read the textbook chapter and then they lecture on what they feel is most important plus give tips on what is vital. Anyone with smarts can figure out how to streamline the studying and memorization. The untested material was good to know but not essential for memorization. It can always be looked up later if someone has a need to know.

Teachers of AP courses in school or in other settings (i.e. online classes that homeschoolers use or at homeschool co-ops) do not have the luxury of scaling back what is taught in the classroom and teaching to the test in a more targeted way because they don't know exactly what will be on the test, they know the course has a ton of information and they know that they have to deliver it all and the student has to study it all. They know that the information on the test is just a fraction of the large amount of material that they were exposed to and there is nothing that they can do about it. Those wishing to be the most prepared need a comprehensive course and they need to put in the time and effort to study and to master analytical essay writing too. Those taking history classes need to be able to read source documents and digest the content and to form opinions.

If my kids ever take an AP course as part of their homeschool you can bet I'll find the best courses out there which produce the highest scores on the tests so we are not wasting our money or my kid's time with a sub-par course. I don't feel I am in the position to custom create a course for my kids and I know at least one of them lacks the personality to teach himself rigorous content with self-discipline. For some kids and for some parents it really would be best to outsource the taking of an AP class.

If pondering all this leaves you to question quitting homeschooling and using public school so the AP courses can be accessed easier and for free there are a couple of issues.

First, schools have differing policies to decide which of the students are able to enroll for the class. (I heard in my former town that it's political and that certain families are favored by administration thus locking other kids out of other classes.) Enrollment is often limited and administration has to choose who gets to take what class.

In some schools the students are tracked (even if they never use that word). If they fail to take certain classes by grade 8 they are locked out of certain classes for grade 9. If they do not enter the honors track in grade 9 they will never be allowed to enroll into an AP class in grades 12, 11, or 10. That is school policy in some schools.

AP courses also sometimes are cut from public school budgets, something that tax-paying citizen parents have little control over and the manner in which that happens is sometimes sudden and makes any future change too late for your child to access. A parent can advocate to reinstate an AP class at the school next year but it's too late for their child to have taken the cut class this year. 

Lastly, look at the school's scores for the class and the test scores: you will see that nationally the kids are scoring well in the class but too many bomb the AP test. What does that say for the quality of the teaching and what the students actually learned?

In contrast when homeschoolers take AP classes they have more freedom of choice, parents pick the course to use. No one limits the students to taking a certain number per year either. Sometimes homseschoolers are allowed to take the classes earlier if the professor deems them truly ready.

Often the only challenge for homeschoolers accessing AP classes is having the money to pay the class tuition and to pay for the textbook and other learning materials. Well, that and staying on top of enrollment dates and rushing to get a spot in the class before it's full.


Fatcat said...

I think CLEP is a better option than AP.

ChristineMM said...

The non-AP high school courses I put my son into offered by Debra Bell's Aim Academy prepare them for CLEP.

I think whether a student aims for AP classes and AP tests or CLEP depends on what college they plan on attending. I have not seen certain colleges we looked at asking for CLEP and they won't take a passing CLEP score to avoid taking the class in college.

I am so sick of worrying about and strategizing the testing requirements, to be brutally honest.

mathfour said...

So I've promised to never give my daughter a math book (until she begs for it). And now I'm promising never to allow her to an AP class. Regardless of who teaches it.

Furthermore, homeschool kids are placing themselves at an advanced stage anyhow. All homeschooling is AP.


Thanks for this. It helps me a bunch.

epic said...

Any school that limits AP enrollment is in violation of College Board policy. All AP classes are open enrollment. In my 5A high school a student can choose to take AP senior English without taking any previous AP/PreAP classes. It is terribly difficult, but every year several attempt it.

Gifted and talented courses are different, but many schools (especially at the high school level) are moving away from the "gifted" designation for classes.

Stephanie said...

I live in Florida and am/have enrolled my 15yr old/10th grader in Community College this fall. Does your area offer a duel-enrollment program? He will be taking college Freshmen English and World History, online, thru the college and be getting both college credits and high school credits. Our goal is for him to have a two year degree by the time he graduates high school. To top it all off, the classes are free,except for the books.