APs are not adequate

17 06 2010

(Finals are starting and I only have 3, all of them easy, thanks to the number of APs (heh) I took this year, and I’m in a ranting mood, so once more unto the breach…)

For gifted kids, AP classes are hardly better than normal classes. This runs contrary to everything that most administrations would have you believe, but it’s true. My “top 100” high school has almost every AP class College Board offers, and by the time I graduate I’ll have taken most of them, so I speak from experience here: AP classes are easy. Straight A’s require a minimum of effort. I haven’t needed to study at all the entire year, just as I studied not at all last year, or the year before.

The problem is that there is a failure in public schools to distinguish “bright” from “gifted.” There are a great number of bright students in my school, and for them APs are wonderful. I would never advocate taking them away. The problem is that truly gifted kids are different. Gifted doesn’t just mean that you’re above average except perhaps under the bizarre definition the school system has invented. To quote SwitchedOnMom,

“I’m sorry, but I will go to my grave believing that some kids just come into this world wired differently, that they are objectively, qualitatively “gifted,” “cognitively advanced,” call it what you will.”

I’ve lived it, and I’ve seen it in other people, and god dammit, there is a difference. Truly gifted kids are something else entirely. A lot of APs are so far below many gifted kids’ ability levels that they’ll have the same problems in an AP class that they would in a normal class. After all, an AP class is modeled after an ordinary intro level college class: if a 10th grader is 3 years above grade level and smart enough to thrive at a top 20 college, the average intro level college class is a piece of cake for her.

There are students who shouldn’t have to bother taking AP classes in a subject: they should go straight into higher level college classes because they’re ready for them, and the AP class is just a waste of time. But most schools require that you finish the AP in a subject before they allow you to move on to higher level courses even if it’s clear that you have no need for the AP material.

This has nothing to do with arrogance or elitism, whatever many anti-GT people say. I think that providing enough of a challenge for the “only” bright kids is every bit as important as providing a challenge for those few are truly gifted. I don’t think that giftedness makes one more important or better or anything like that. Most of my favorite people in the world are “only” smart.

No, what this is about is everyone being challenged. When AP classes are a lot of work but easy, they are not providing “adequate rigor.” When AP classes are a joke, and students get A’s and 5s without ever opening their textbooks, they are not providing “adequate rigor.” That’s by design: they are not intended for the type of kids I’m talking about. They’re designed for the many smart kids for whom normal classes are too easy. They aren’t designed for the kids who could, if they were pushed, handle a real high level college course load as 10th graders.

If schools are really interested in giving all students adequately difficult classes, then they will end the useless linear progression that so hurts gifted students. Requiring a year stuck in an AP class before you can take a college class at your real level is just as inane a policy as requiring a year in a normal class when the student is ready for the AP class.