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TELL US: AP Classes, Can There Be Too Much of a Good Thing?

Do stacked schedules and a half-dozen exams offer an easy road to the elite institutions, or is that a recipe for student stress?


If you read the Globe, then chances are you’ve heard the story of Claire Huang, the Lexington High senior who could graduate next spring with perfect scores on 10 advanced placement exams. The plan, Huang told the Globe, is for her AP classes to provide an edge as she when it comes to earning admittance in an elite college or university.

And if you live in Lexington, or any of a number of leafy suburbs outside Boston, then chances are that if you don’t know Claire, you know probably know six students like her.

While many high performing school districts like Lexington have opted out of the Race to the Top federal education initiative, many students in towns like this are stacking their schedules in their own race to the top – of their class and, they hope, of the applicant pool for choice colleges and universities.

In recent years, however, the spotlight has shifted to student stress and there has been a bit of pushback against kids overloading schedules and taking as many AP exams as they think they can ace.

Last spring in Lexington, , which followed screenings of the film ”Race to Nowhere.”

“We’re in a dangerous place and we all have a part in that,” said Laura Lasa, who is now the principal at Lexington High School, but who acted as moderator that night last May. “And it’s time to keep the discussions going, but it’s also time to start doing.”

It’s not just a public school thing. Concord Academy has eliminated all AP courses, replacing them with “Advanced Curriculum” courses that are more project-based, according to the Globe. Concord Academy does still offer AP exams, which can in some cases alleviate a student’s requirements once he or she gets into college.

“Taking eight AP classes your senior year instead of taking six AP classes is not going to make a difference to an admissions officer,” Peter Jennings, the director of college counseling at Concord Academy and a former Tufts admissions officer, told the Globe. “They’re much more interested in the life of the mind and the quality of the work that students are doing. I think that message gets distorted, and that creates the AP mania.”

So with that in mind, we want to know, When it comes to AP courses and exams, can there be too much of a good thing? Do stacked schedules and a half-dozen exams offer an easy road to the Ivy League, or is that a recipe for student stress?

Let us know in the comment section below.

Andrei Radulescu-Banu October 09, 2012 at 01:24 PM
"The problem is that non ap students at Umass Have no real skills, they just passed the MCAS. The MCAS in no way means the high school students are ready at all for college. The students in high school who take AP or Honors classes Barely meet the actual scholarship needed to be a good college student. The rest are just kidding themselves because in standard high school classes you are just barely not [good enough]." "Most of the elite schools and many of the very good colleges don't actually give you college credits for 4 or 5 scores on AP tests. They let you place out of the lowest level. Which is nice but doesn't actually save the student any money. A student at LHS taking 8+ AP courses (assuming she does well) will surely get into one of the top schools, but she is not going to get credit." "At least in math and science, the AP exams require more than memorization or rote procedure. The questions require sufficient mastery of the concepts to craft a correct approach to an unfamiliar problem on the spot. I'm not terribly impressed, though. For decades, top students have been doing challenging work in their senior year. The biggest change is that the "AP" label is now slapped onto these courses."
Andrei Radulescu-Banu October 09, 2012 at 01:25 PM
The last user comment from boston.com: "Many years ago I was a volunteer "reader" of MIT undergraduate applications. I agree with the admissions officers cited in the article that AP credits are only going to go so far. At a place like MIT, where practically every applicant was class valedictorian, had a 4.0 average, scored a perfect 1600 on SATS (or close to), etc. it's the extracurricular activities that make a student stand out. Yes, even a place like MIT wants well-rounded students. If students like Ms. Huang focus on meaningful volunteer work, or hands-on experience related to their course of study, it will make them stand out much more than another AP class."
Dennis O'Donnell October 09, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing to not put it in the fruit salad. If this kid wants to take all those exams, great. I like that Lexington has many options available. I might guide my kids to not take as many tests, but that's up to each family and even each kid. I think one of the main points that gets over looked is the rigor involved in these classes and preparing a kid for a collegiate academic life. While it may not earn the kid any actual credits, all the work that went into preparing surely is beneficial.
Lilly Padd October 10, 2012 at 12:02 PM
You are assuming that AP classes/tests are a "good thing" and it is the number of AP classes that may/may not be a "good thing". What if you start with the question: how well are our schools preparing our kids to handle life well, no matter what happens?
Dennis O'Donnell October 10, 2012 at 02:06 PM
I believe that's mainly my job, not the schools. And yes, I'm assuming that the option to take as many AP classes/tests is a good thing. Options are a good thing. Those kids who are cramming in AP classes have the choice to not take them. And I'm pretty sure I wouldn't let my kids take as many as they could. But if my wife and I thought our kids could handle it, and the kid wanted to take a shot at it, great. If not, so be it. That's the beauty of options; we have a choice. As for the content of the AP classes, I can't speak to that other than it's a level of rigor greater than the level below it. Would exposure to increased rigor help more or less once the kids is in a collegiate setting? My guess is more, but still think it depends on the kid and each family should make that decision for themselves.

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