By Rachel Bradley
In 1952 the Committee on Admission with Advanced Standing developed a program “to allow motivated students to work at the height of their capabilities and advance as quickly as possible.” Today we know this program as the College Board Advanced Placement Program (AP) which offers the possibility for high school students to earn college credits – if they can do sufficiently well on the exams. AP exams quickly became popular all around the country with the number of schools nationally offering AP courses increasing from 12,486 in 1998 to 22,169 in 2017.
In Kentucky in 2017, 35,750 students took an AP exam with an average score of 2.67, below the minimum score for which most colleges give credit. Following is one student’s perspective. Here, and just as Kentucky students head into exam season, one Kentucky high school junior shares her frustration with AP testing and the idea that learning can be reduced to a cold number.
I grab the black pen with my clammy hand, the gibberish of a foreign language looms over me as I begin to BS my way through the Latin exam for which I was only about 20% ready. I spent seven years studying Latin just to get a two on the AP exam.
A two – not a great score and definitely not going to get me college credit. If this number means that I’m not going to get credit then what was the point of my seven-year study of Latin? Ideally I am learning for learning’s sake but isn’t the whole point of an AP exam to be able to get college credit? This “standardized” test is not measuring a student’s passion and mastery over content but instead it is a set of metrics which measure a student’s ability to master the test taking puzzle.
In the beginning, I was excited to be taking my first AP course. A high school course that I could get college credit for? What genius came up with this!? I had dreams of getting fours and fives and starting college with some credit, maybe even graduating early and getting on with my life. But reality set in, and my dreams were crushed. After beginning my college search it seems more and more that colleges want to see that we’ve taken these courses but they do not want to give credit for them. Did I really just spend the last year dedicating hours of my life just to earn some silly number (1-5)? Did I actually learn anything other then how to take a specific test? Sadly it’s not just AP courses that make me feel this way. Tests, papers, quizzes, homework – each assigned a number, a grade as we say.
The more I convince myself that my grades don’t matter, the more troubled I am.
Our schools have become a place where it doesn’t matter whether or not I understand the material, or whether or not I am physically learning anything, or I am enjoying the course, but whether I can suck up facts and information and regurgitate it back onto a piece of paper. I keep telling myself that grades do not define me. Sure, it’s nice to have good grades – that will help me get into a good college. However, is my future employer going to be looking at whether or not I got an A in my eleventh grade English class? I doubt it – they’re very thorough if they do. It has come to a point where all I care about is keeping my GPA and I struggle to prove to myself that my life does not depend on a number. How did school become a place where learning is based on how well you can take a test or a quiz?
Maybe back in the olden days, memorizing material and taking a test was good enough for factory work, but we’re a more complex society, one in which we have to think critically and act proactively in bettering the world. Learning isn’t just something that happens in an instant. It’s not something that can be statistically measured. Learning takes time, a lifetime of time. Everyday we learn something new whether we recognize it or not.
Yes, maybe I am a little upset about my low score on the exam and yes, maybe I could have put more time and effort into studying, but I’m most upset about the fact that part of the past seven years of my life can now be summed up in the number: two.
Rachel Bradley is a junior at Kentucky Country Day School in Louisville and a member of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team.
Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.