So after deciding that we thought the full advanced placement courses class load was a treadmill to no-where that was increasing in speed, we started out with recommending our kids take partial AP loads. But, we found that our kids weren’t getting as much out of their classes. Maybe the path the school was recommending for top students – a full AP load – was the right one after all.
The problem is that the standard advice – given by all high schools – is to take as many preAP/AP courses as you possibly can. This means that most of the serious students are in the preAP/AP classes.
So, going into our daughter’s 7th grade year and our son’s first year of high school, we let them increase their AP/preAP loads.
Our daughter decided to take a full load of preAP classes (math, science, history, and English) in 7th grade. Our son opted to take regular English, preAP math and science, and – at the encouragement from his 8th grade preAP history teacher – the intimidating full AP class in Human Geography. This class had a reputation for being particularly challenging, because as freshmen they would be taking an AP test at the end of the year.
So, what were the outcomes?
They enjoyed their preAP/AP classes.
Our kids’ grades were fine.
And we were glad our son didn’t take freshman preAP English.
From what we heard, there were some extra difficulties with our school’s particular class. But I also found out that the books the kids are assigned to read in all the preAP high school English classes were picked according to books that would be on the AP test their senior year.
And those books are picked by college English professors. And the preAP classes at our school, on all grades, were reading what I would consider horrendous books to require teens to read. None of the parents I talked to were happy about it. (Although unlike me, they were usually quiet about it. For more of my thoughts on required reading, see my post Why is Required School Reading so Depressing?)
We saw their homework loads increase significantly.
In particular, AP Human Geography (history/social studies) had close to two hours of homework every night for several weeks in a row. (He made a 4 on the AP test.) This would have been impossible to keep up with if he hadn’t had a particularly light load of extracurricular activities. (We were disappointed in the lack of extracurricular, but that’s another post.)
Our kids definitely started staying up later at night. Even though we didn’t do any of our kids homework for them, we liked to stay up until they were done, in case they needed any help with explanations. So the parents started getting less sleep too.
Our kids started falling asleep while trying to finish homework. (Their grades were still good.)
Our kids didn’t want to miss school for anything. Which in part is good. But they worried about missing class even for academically oriented extracurricular activities like science fair and student government. When they got sick, the load to make up their work was overwhelming. When there was snow day, my kids groaned instead of cheered. They knew it just meant more homework.
But here’s what bothered us the most. In 7th grade, our daughter was invited to take the SAT as part of the Duke TIP Talent Search. About a dozen students from our district qualified to be recognized at the state level, which was fantastic. But, it also meant that we noticed something.
We had friends going to an exclusive, academically challenging, private school. So we noticed that school also had about a dozen 7th graders recognized at the state level.
Granted, that meant that the private school had a higher percentage of Duke TIP students, but we weren’t concerned with that. At first, it seemed to indicate that our school was on the right track.
Let me stop here and explain that I don’t think that being a National Merit Scholar is the be-all-end- all to life success. But, when we started looking for a school district, it did seem to be an easy measure to determine if there were at least some academically interested students attending the school. From the start, we weren’t interested in our kids attending a cut-throat high-pressure school. But, because my husband and I both attended high schools where we both stood out as “brainiacs,” we were interested in our kids going to a school where they would have some friends with shared interests. We picked a growing school district with a couple of National Merit Scholars a year.
So I knew the level of National Merit Scholars our high school had 10 years ago was 1-2 per year. The school has undergone unbelievable growth during that time.
And when I checked the current number of National Merit Scholars –
it hadn’t changed.
But even more frustrating, was the comparison to the private school. Given that the two schools had the same number of 7th grade students recognized by Duke TIP, you would assume that there would be a similar number of National Merit Seniors. Unfortunately, this wasn’t true. While our school still only had 1-2 a year, the private school had 10-12 every year.
So, not that the PSAT, SAT, and National Merit are perfect measures of academic achievement, but why would the number of qualifying students go down as the progressed through our district? Was the full load of preAP/AP classes getting the students where they want to be, or is it hurting them?