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AP program turns freshmen into instant sophomores

Jenn Kearney
By Michael Huston
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, January 13, 2006
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When Andrew Stevens enrolled at the UA as a mechanical engineering freshman, he didn't sign up for the usually required Calculus 1 and 2 math courses. "Passing the AP Calculus BC test in high school got me out of the boring freshman math classes in college," he said. Stevens isn't the only person taking advantage of the program.

It used to be that only the smart kids - and generally only the smart Caucasian kids - in American high schools participated in Advanced Placement programs, but a recent article in The New York Times suggests that the College Board, the organization that administers AP tests across the country, has increased its efforts in recent years to market the program to minorities and students in urban schools.

This means that many students who would traditionally face the toughest obstacles in securing college admissions now have a better opportunity to show universities what they are capable of in the classroom.

With its expansion, the AP program has drawn criticism from some teachers and administrators who say it sacrifices depth and quality in order to fit a tremendous amount of information into a short time frame, and that it hijacks individual teachers' curriculums and effectively forces them to "teach to the test."

The fact is that AP programs give students a unique opportunity to challenge themselves; the program should continue to be expanded in order to better prepare students for the college experience.

With standards for college admissions getting tougher all the time, capable students should be excited about the opportunity to prove themselves through accomplishment in difficult courses.

The article in the Times reported that when evaluating candidates for admission, review boards at the nation's elite universities place emphasis on their determination of whether a student took the most rigorous academic program available.

In addition to a boosted resume in applying to college, AP students often find themselves better prepared for college coursework, and more and more students are walking into universities having already earned a significant number of credits.

Rick Sears, the assistant director of enrollment research at the UA, said that approximately 56 percent of undergraduates are admitted having taken at least one AP class, and that those students take an average of 2.9 AP classes before coming to the university.

Michael Huston/columnist

This means that the AP program in high schools is helping students to be better equipped for their university experiences.

But the program must also be seen as a valuable way to level the playing field for minorities and students in poorer urban schools who have typically been left out of AP-level classes.

By offering an advanced standardized curriculum to students across the nation, the AP program gives hardworking and intelligent students everywhere a chance

to demonstrate academic excellence, regardless of what school they go to or what color they are, and thus increase their chance of getting into and becoming successful at major universities.

Programs such as this one, which subject students to the same standard regardless of race, take a markedly different approach than traditional affirmative action at closing the achievement gap that has long existed between white students and minorities by offering every student an equal chance to demonstrate his or her ability.

Teachers and administrators in high schools must recognize the opportunity they have to use the AP program in order to help their students pursue college. Nowhere is this truer than in poor high schools, where a majority of students have long seen college as being reserved for the "privileged."

Yet, as the Times reported, low-income schools continue to fall behind their more wealthy counterparts in terms of the number of AP classes offered to students. Individual educators must take an active role in assisting the AP to reach its desired goal of helping all capable students reach their full potential without regard to racial or economic factors.

If the cost of the exams is a problem for students in low-income high schools, then the College Board should consider developing a need-based system to subsidize the costs of the exams for deserving students.

The expansion of the AP program, in its capacity as a standardized opportunity for gifted students to demonstrate their hard work and intelligence, will go far in creating a more equal system that rewards ability before skin color or economic status.

Michael Huston is a junior majoring in political science and philosophy. He can be reached at

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