Palo Alto High School offers a wide variety of Advanced Placement (AP) classes that allow students to complete a college level course in high school in order to master a certain subject. While some students take AP classes to show academic rigor on their transcript, others strive to score well on the AP exam to avoid taking introductory classes in college. Most importantly, some students take AP courses to delve deep into a subject that they are truly passionate about. While the latter group of students may be small and often overlooked, teachers should focus on designing a course for such students who take the class for the purpose of learning the curriculum rather than to perform well on the exam.
Many AP classes cover topics that are likely to appear on the exam, which are not necessarily the most important, central ideas of a subject. As a result, many students become less passionate and more reluctant to study subjects that are geared towards standardized testing. Students would be more interested in a subject if the teacher demonstrated enthusiasm for the curriculum itself, rather than focusing on the educational program outlined by The College Board, the company that administers AP tests.
Moreover, a study done by the National Public Radio (NPR) demonstrated that scoring well on standardized tests is not the best measure of intelligence. Thus, preparing students excessively for such an exam is not the best way to help a student learn a subject.
In addition, constant discussion of the exam throughout the year and preparing students exclusively for the exam builds pressure and stress for students. It can cause students to feel that if they do not pass the AP exam, they have not understood the material taught in class.
Most importantly, it is a waste of time for students and teachers alike to devote so much effort on a test that students will most likely forget shortly after taking it. Instead, they could be studying a subject that could be useful for their college education. Since Paly is fortunate enough to have many students that are extremely motivated academically, the AP course should focus on channeling that enthusiasm rather than boring students with a focus on standardized testing.
Granted, teachers should provide time to review and practice the exam material towards the end of the year so that students can perform to the best of their ability.
However, preparation for the exam should be kept to one or two months prior to the exam, rather than the entire year. An ideal example of how AP classes should be structured is the AB Calculus class. While students spend the majority of the year learning important mathematical concepts, the teachers provide a generous amount of time to focus on AP test questions near the end of the year.
An AP class should be a balance between focusing on an engaging curriculum and preparing students to score well on the exam.