Friday, June 21, 2013

AP courses are no big deal.

Jay Matthews on AP courses:
Most of the available data shows that high school students who do well in AP courses and tests do better in college than students who do not take AP.

Of course, you moron. AP students are, by definition, better students. What did you expect that research to show?

I think AP is a plus. Many high school students have told me their AP and IB courses made it easier for them to handle college academic demands. They have persuaded me that the AP approach to teaching and learning — smaller classes meeting more frequently with better-trained instructors — is better than what most colleges give their freshmen. But perhaps I am biased.
Jay is biased but that's not why he's wrong in this article. His basic premise is that AP courses are better than college freshman courses of the same name. He trots out a UNC freshman who feels that the AP History course had much more rigor than the freshman introductory course, and honestly seems disappointed that colleges are backing off their acceptance of the AP for credit.

Here's the deal.

Those AP courses enroll the best students in the school so they can be more rigorous than a general college course would be. College profs aren't stupid - they know their classes aren't filled with AP students. They know that they have to keep as many kids as possible in school or funding dries up and student evaluations get nasty.

Even though AP is better than the introductory courses, it can't hold a candle to the REAL courses.

Take my students, for example. They took AP Calculus and did well, worked hard, understood ... but every student in the room had a different plan, a different major lined up. Some wanted to do Marine Biology but they weren't totally sure, others engineering, one math, one history, one film, one psychology and some other BS degrees.

I couldn't incorporate the business examples the one kid needed, the physics that the other needed or the computer programming the others needed. My calculus, of necessity, had to be fairly general. I couldn't teach Calc121 for mechanical engineers because they weren't that specialized yet and because there was an incredible range of interest and course preparation in the room.

There were things missing, examples that I couldn't use because the physics was beyond them or because the economics was beyond me.

Far better for these kids to take the specialized calculus through their new department and get an easy A. Then they can excel by discussing the finer points with the professor, working beyond the class, and learning to work with calculus in a fluent and beautiful way.  this builds the network, allows them to succeed in college and get on the right track through a very big transition in their lives.

The history major who took AP Calc because he could, and who didn't really need it for his major, should absolutely get credit for the AP course.

Somewhat necessary.
The math major for whom the rest of his career will depend on a solid calculus foundation, should not. The engineering, or economics, or physics majors should not. No matter how good a job I do, there will always be a ton of stuff missing, stuff that a calculus for physics majors class will incorporate seamlessly.

What could possibly be missing from my spectacular class? Well, for one thing, computer solution techniques. Did I do the same amount of work using MatLab as the CALC121 class did? No, because it isn't allowed on the AP exam, wasn't included in the syllabus and was not demanded in the audit. Should those kids get credit for a course that doesn't really resemble the college course at all?

The takeaway: If you NEED a course for your major, AP courses should not count. A good foundation is too important.

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