Stigmas and Stereotypes of AP classes

Posted: May 24, 2013

Students and faculty weigh in on myths and realities regarding Advanced Placement classes

Zero hours, note cards, reading for hours, multiple choice exams, free responses and DBQs. These are some of the things that make up the advanced placement experience. So why would anyone want to go through it? Advanced Placement (AP) classes have brought about feelings of fear, excitement, obligation and weariness.

“There’s a stigma about taking AP classes and lots of them,” said junior Olivia Benson.

At Minnehaha Academy, in fact, there are two stigmas. For those students who are surrounded by other students who take many AP classes, choosing not to take any AP classes looks bad. For a student surrounded by students who flourish in non-AP classes, choosing to take AP can look like overachieving.

The reasons behind why students choose to take AP classes vary from person to person. Whether it’s peer pressure, family expectations, thinking about the future (and college expenses) or the desire to challenge oneself academically one thing remains true: many Minnehaha students don’t know the truth about AP. Many students like to do things according to social groups and yet other students listen to rumors.

The result is that many teens have a skewed perspective when it comes to making decisions but the decision to take or not take AP courses should be based on capabilities and goals.

In this case there are different myths. Upper School Vice Principal Michael DiNardo has studied the statistics related to the AP classes at Minnehaha. He believes that common misconceptions should be corrected, such as the thought that everyone takes AP classes. There are four basic misconceptions.


Everyone/No one takes AP

Overall DiNardo said taking AP classes is “not as prevalent as people think it is, but I would encourage it.”

Minnehaha offers the largest number of AP classes of any private school in the state. It  takes pride in student academic success as measured in achievement on standardized tests.

At the same time, all students are allowed the chance to take at least one AP class, unlike many other public and private schools, which restrict AP enrollment. Of course, some AP classes have prerequisites, such as AP Studio Art and AP Calculus.

Both DiNardo and Heidi Shannon, director of admission and enrollment, know AP courses are a selling point to prospective students and parents.

“These days it is common for even prospective lower school families to ask about our AP program,” said Shannon. “We have found that is never too early to discuss AP classes. Our program is solid and it sets us apart from other schools.”

“[But] all of our classes are college prep classes,” said DiNardo.

For the current graduating class of 2013, approximately 44.2 percent of the students have taken two AP classes or fewer in their four years of high school. This statistic brought about different opinions.

“I feel like I expected more [AP courses] because you normally get looked as an ‘underachiever’ if you only take, say, one AP class per year,” said junior Tianna Briese.

After analyzing the data some more, she said, “Realistically, it’s normal.”

Sophomore Justin Nasifoglu looked at the statistic in a different way.

“A lot of people are good at certain subjects, and whatever they are good at they take the AP class,” he said.

College counselor Richard Harris summed it all up: “I think there’s a perception [of the above] and a lot of times perception becomes reality even though it really isn’t.”


AP is too hard

Some students avoid AP courses because they believe they are too difficult. The age-old question comes to mind: How do you know until you try?

Looking at PSAT (pre-SAT) and PLAN (pre-ACT) tests, the Minnehaha’s college counselors, Harris and Lauren Bae, are able to match each student’s ability with available courses. For example, if one does well on the math section of a PSAT, it is easier for the counselors to advise that student to try an AP math course. Teacher input is also a major factor, of course.

When it comes to determining the right number of AP classes for an individual to take in one year, it all depends on time management and hard work.

“Most of the students take the right amount of AP courses that they are able to handle,” said Harris. “It is actually very rare that a student overextends themselves. I see students under extended more than anything else.”


AP is the only way to get into college

It’s true, colleges like to see AP classes, but that is only one facet of a student’s record. The College Board, which operates the entire AP program, promotes itself by stating that students who take AP courses are demonstrating “knowledge, skills and academic behaviors for success”  to colleges and universities while additionally giving themselves a higher chance of graduating in four years or less.

Colleges also like athletic, charitable and responsible students, but specific classes aren’t offered for those qualities. Minnehaha administrators encourage students to take AP courses if they feel capable, but they stress that AP courses don’t make or break a person.


AP scores matter only to me

When students take an AP test the score can range from one to five. A score of three or higher is considered passing. Depending on the college they attend, students may earn credit or placement into higher classes for earning scores of three or higher on their AP exams.

Some students may feel that if they can’t achieve a high score, then it’s not worth studying or trying hard at test time. But all student scores are counted in school-average and class-average scores. School-average scores are made public and sent to colleges.

Two factors already affect Minnehaha’s average: allowing many students to take AP courses and requiring all students who take AP courses to take AP tests.

When students decide the AP test doesn’t matter as much as the class grade it changes the way colleges perceive a high school, “It reflects on our school and our teachers poorly,” said DiNardo.

A solution some schools have found is to make AP scores a part of the course grade.

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