HomeOpinionOpinion: Should CHS reassess APs?

Opinion: Should CHS reassess APs?

High achievement is hurting CHS. You heard me.

CarmelHigh School has a lot going for it. Blessed with an unorthodox source of funding—local property tax revenues rather than state money—CHS is largely independent of Sacramento’s ongoing budget-cut disaster. CHS has escaped the more devastating cutbacks other California high schools have been forced to confront. Likewise, the caliber of teachers at CHS is very high—every student, parent and administrator knows that, or else is gravely mistaken. The resources available at CHS are brilliant.

When it comes to AP courses—open enrollment, growing proportions of students taking classes—things continue to run smoothly. At least, one would think so.

Don’t get me wrong. CHS isn’t a bad school. It isn’t being profoundly mismanaged, and academic collapse isn’t imminent. But despite—or perhaps due to—the best intentions of our administration, the quality of a Carmel High education deserves a closer look. That reassessment ought to start with our school’s emphasis on maximizing AP enrollment.

CHS is certainly trying to do the right thing with regards to AP courses. Here, it’s “open enrollment”: as long as you cross a certain (low) grade threshold, you can take the AP course in question. And at face value it makes sense: more kids in AP, more kids learning more material. More education must surely be happening.

In practice, though, the results are a lot more mixed. What’s happened at CarmelHigh School is that AP courses—filled to the brim with students who at other schools might not have made the AP cut—have become not the advanced class for proficient standards that their “Advance Placement” moniker might suggest, but instead the standard course. Rather than serving as that same standard-difficulty course, college prep classes have become in CHS culture a remedial substitution for the AP classes.

We don’t have “a normal college prep class” and “the labor intensive AP course.” Instead, we have AP courses of compromised rigor and college prep classes serving as what amounts to remedial education.

The damage of this can’t be understated. Firstly, CHS’s college prep classes have become much weaker. These days “ordinary” students find themselves foisted into AP courses, while college prep is left with only the students who feel they can’t stomach APs at all. These classes have lost all of the bright, hardworking students who brought up the quality of the class for their teachers and their peers.

If you’re wondering why our ranking in STAR scores has stagnated in recent years—we’ve huddled around the same ranking in the state index for years—this might be a good place to start. Leaving behind the students who just can’t handle APs stymies motivation and learning in the broad sense.

But jacking up AP enrollment hurts everyone, not just college prep students. Because of zealous enrollment, over-programmed “average” students confront stress that they do not deserve nor ought to expect in high school. Very high achieving students—ones who can more easily handle a truly advanced course—are forced into big classes where the advanced curriculum has been softened to make it palatable to a wider range of students. After all, APs have become our survey courses.

There’s value in college credit through AP exams, and our AP teachers are extraordinary. It should also be noted that CHS is recognized nationally by The Washington Post as a Top 300 high school, largely due to high AP enrollment. And we certainly shouldn’t end our generous open enrollment policy outright. But let’s temper our zealousness when enrolling every kid we can convince to take the class. There’s a trade off to be made there, and it isn’t clear that cost is worth it.


Latest comment

  • As I posted to Colette Hamwey’s article on this subject concerning the Washington Post rankings, the Post’s national rankings are based solely on the number of students sitting for AP exams. Pass rates or scores aren’t part of the equation. U.S. News and World Report goes a little further, additionally counting and weighting the number of students who pass (3 or better) at least one AP test. Still an extremely limited and artificial measure of academic performance.

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