Every student has a right to advanced classes.
Advanced Placement is a right, not a privilege. At least it should be the right of every high school student. At North Eugene High School, where every junior will be required to take a yearlong AP English course this year, that right will be guaranteed.
In some schools across this nation, even in Eugene, Advanced Placement classes are by invitation only, or admittance is gained through previous teachers' recommendations. There are prerequisites. Certain students are locked out. This is in complete violation of The College Board's emphasis on open enrollment policies for AP classes; the board, which administers the AP program, mandates that anyone who wants the challenge should have the right to take the class.
Why are these exclusionary policies in place when they fly in the face of what The College Board deems ethical? Because these policies have always been in place; they have become tradition in many schools across the nation.
It also stands to reason that if one excludes those students who may not have straight A's on their transcripts, one then guarantees a passing rate of 100 percent on the AP exams. Some high school principals and many teachers think that is important.
But The College Board doesn't want to see 100 percent passing rates on AP exams. Every summer, as a reader on the AP English exam, I hear the refrain that if all students who take the exams pass the test, then something is dreadfully wrong.
The College Board wants to see a range of scores. It wants to see a bell curve as evidence that students are being stretched beyond their comfort zone, and that there is a policy of open enrollment.
There is no glory for a school in a 100 percent passing rate on AP tests. The glory lies in the numbers of students who are getting the intellectual challenge that AP courses provide. There will be reason to celebrate when the sizes of AP classes increase in number at each local high school. That will happen this year at North Eugene High School.
When I first proposed the idea of Advanced Placement English Language and Composition for all juniors at North at a department meeting last year, I was filled with conviction about the importance of social justice in the public high school. I knew that the idea sounded ground-breaking in a school whose honors track led directly to AP. I had been teaching AP English for more than 10 years in three different schools, each with its own very similar philosophical approach about who got to take the class.
North Eugene was no exception - until the small schools reform movement changed many of us irrevocably. Many of us now know that there can be no limits on educational opportunities, opportunities that are transformational.
What North will do this year will create new educational and social traditions. More students will have access to highly trained teachers. Increasing the diversity in AP classes will not bring less intellectual rigor, it will raise the bar for everyone. More teachers will stretch themselves in new ways as they prepare students to meet a national standard of excellence.
Last summer the entire English department attended an AP Institute, something that is usually reserved for the one who will teach AP into retirement. That `ivory tower' mystery about what goes on in AP is being unlocked. Another tradition discarded.
Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses empower students. The strength of these programs is about far more than earning college credit for passing the exams. It's about taking a college preparatory class, not a college class, and stretching the mind.
No one has the right to lock the door and refuse entrance to a young person whose potential is unknown. We cannot determine the success or failure of a student in advance. For some students, that determination has already been made. At least at North, that will no longer be the case.
Pamela McCarty has been teaching English literature for 16 years. She taught AP English literature and language for six years at North Eugene High School. She is now teaching in International High School and preparing students for the International Baccalaureate.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Sep 11, 2005|
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