Currently, Kingswood Oxford offers 17 AP courses. Although many students who opt to take an AP course do so in order to further their knowledge on a particular subject in a more rigorous academic setting and not necessarily to take the final AP exam, once enrolled, students are mandated to sit for the examination in May, often much to their dismay.
Many schools, such as Loomis Chaffee, have discontinued offering AP classes. This decision isn’t uncommon, as many schools have been debating the efficacy of the AP program in recent years. In its place, they offer classes designated as “College Level,” in order to indicate to colleges that the same amount of rigor is present in such courses. The advantage to courses such as these is that students gain an extra three to four weeks of instruction time in the year, as AP exams normally occur during the first two weeks of May even though most schools are in session until June. This causes teachers to have to rush through the AP material and then leaves an awkward period at the end of the year when there is no further content to be taught, yet class is still occurring.
Another alternative is dual enrollment classes, in which students are able to receive college credit by taking college-level courses in highschool. Dual enrollment classes are typically offered through a partnership with a local college or university. A key factor that differentiates dual enrollment courses from the AP courses is that whether a student receives college credit isn’t dependent on sitting for an exam. A downfall to this option is that teachers are required to have a Master’s degree in the specialty that they are instructing, which not all teachers possess. This creates a discrepancy in terms of which classes could have the potential to become dual enrollment courses and could also disadvantage certain students based solely on the interests that they hold.
At the very least, KO needs to remove their requirement that calls for all students in an AP course to take the AP examination in May. This requirement may discourage or deter students from taking AP courses at the prospect of having to take such a daunting exam. Additionally, for students taking multiple APs, exam week is very condensed and stressful. Students may be asked to sit for multiple exams in one day, each of which is over three hours long. Asking students to spend such a large portion of their day testing could negatively affect their performance both based on the sheer amount of material to study and the mental toll that results from the length of time spent in an examination room.
Furthermore, the AP exams are a somewhat arbitrary measurement of proficiency in a subject. The AP exams are scored on a scale of one to five, with one being “no recommendation” and five being “extremely well qualified.” A score of three or up is considered passing. The tests are structured to be 3 hours and 15 minutes long for most subjects, exempting arts courses, with a multiple choice section and a free response section.
The all-or-nothing nature of the multiple choice section makes it an inaccurate measure of a student’s knowledge of a certain subject. A student who chooses a plausible answer receives the same amount of credit (none) as a student who selected a throwaway answer. In AP Calculus, sometimes a correct and incorrect answer differ by only a negative sign. A student could do all the work right for a question but forget to distribute a negative sign and receive the same amount of points as a student who didn’t even attempt it.
The free response section allocates points in smaller increments, but each point is still an all-or-nothing situation. For AP Chemistry, forgetting to use significant figures (the number of unit values in an answer) could cause a student to lose most of the points in a question. Yet, this is only the case for certain questions. Each year, the AP arbitrarily selects a question for which forgetting to use significant figures results in a point deduction. For the other questions, a student could forget and receive full points. It’s quite simply sheer luck which question is chosen each year. This flawed system is one of many examples of how AP exams are not an accurate measure of a student’s skills in a subject area.
While not recommended, if KO continues to require students to sit for the AP examination in May, their exam policies must be updated to meet the needs of students. This year, KO mandated that students weren’t required to attend classes after an exam, but they did have to attend afternoon commitments such as sports practice. The caveat was that if students were on campus, they did have to attend class.
This greatly inconveniences students who live further away from campus. AP exams end at nearly 12 p.m., while sports start around 3:15 p.m. The time needed to make a round trip commute would cause students to lose valuable time to study for upcoming exams or to just relax after a stressful morning of testing. KO should be campus space as a resource to students who recently took exams rather than closing it off.
Moreover, students shouldn’t be required to attend afternoon commitments if they don’t have to go to class. Taking an AP is mentally exhausting and students should be rewarded a break after completing an exam. The idea that students need to attend afternoon commitments without attending classes is, frankly, illogical.
If KO does not move away from offering AP courses in coming years, at the very least, their AP policy should be updated to be more equitable. Students should be allowed to challenge themselves with the rigor of taking an AP course without being required to take the exam in May. For those who do choose to take the exams, KO should remove discrepancies in its policies and present itself as a more accessible resource.