As soon as I saw this response letter, “Extra Credit: AP for More Spells Better Things for All,” I knew I had something to say! In fact, this letter is written by an AP Physics teacher in Maryland in response to the original article, “Is AP for All A Formula for Failure?”
I taught in a school in which there were no regular track English courses offered. In fact, there were only AP Literature courses offered in a school where meeting Adequate Yearly Progress was a struggle, not a given. Past test scores also indicated that about 99% of students who took the AP Literature exams received scores of 1 out of 5.
The governing philosophy at this school was “high standards for all”. Ideally, the sentiment behind this phrase is perfectly understandable and is actually commendable. In actuality, unfortunately, the situations under which students are successfully challenged and pushed to the high standards also requires a “perfect storm” in order for those desired results to occur. In other words, it more often seemed like most of my students were like two-year-olds reaching for the cookie jar on top of the refrigerator, in a perpetual state of hunger. Meanwhile, the less vertically-challenged kids just walked up to the refrigerator and ate their fill of the cookies!
The teacher in this letter agrees with my former school’s philosophy that setting high (and sometimes unattainable standards) helps those who, within an academic year, can not possibly reach those standards. The teacher labels the knowledge these students receive, “table scraps.” Ha!
Table scraps??!! Is it okay for a child to be in a classroom where the best he can receive are table scraps??!! As teachers we want ALL students tearing at the chicken!
Enough with the food metaphors!
The perfect storm I described above includes: a skilled and experienced teacher in differentiating instruction, ample resources including textbooks and technology, special education assistance, literacy coach assistance, after-school programs staffed with highly-qualified teachers, a stellar curriculum, a stellar administrative staff, parental involvement, time and more.
In an ideal situation, AP for more does spell better things for all. But far too often, especially in struggling schools and school systems, these students who are to benefit from “table scraps” ARE LEFT BEHIND.
Furthermore, it is not all children, who when in sight of seemingly unconquerable challenges, that will strive to conquer these challenges. Many will not, and not because of any intrinsic flaw, but for various reasons they will not, and subsequently fail. But they are not failures, I don’t believe any child (or anyone for that matter) can be a failure. Why should we force our children into situations where they are pushed to feel like failures, especially when they don’t have the maturity of mind, body, or spirit to deal with such situations?
I don’t get it. All kids need to be pushed and challenged, but what this looks like for each child, is NOT THE SAME. Pushing every child to accomplish the College Board’s determination of COLLEGE-LEVEL English upon students who read at, say, 6th grade levels, is NOT fair to students. It’s just not. I believe they deserve more than table scraps.
I want to see all students have a path to academic achievement and excellence, no matter their parent’s bank statement, the neighborhood they came from, or the culture they represent.
I know the yardsticks, aka standardized tests, we use to assess children are necessary. I know the competitiveness in an AP classroom with a range of learners is only a microcosm of how tough the real world is. But I also know students need to know and understand what success feels like in order to remain focused and motivated to do better each step of the way. I don’t think forcing every child into an AP course is the way to go about doing so.
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