Our guest authors today are Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Andrew E. Scanlan. Finn is a distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Scanlan is a research and policy associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
This year, some 165,000 American educators are teaching Advanced Placement (AP) classes—a veritable army, mobilized to serve some three million students as they embark on coursework leading to the AP program’s rigorous three-hour exams each May. As we explore in our new book, Learning in the Fast Lane: The Past, Present and Future of Advanced Placement, preparing these young people to succeed on the tests (scored from 1 to 5, with 3 or better deemed “qualifying”) is a major instructional objective for teachers as well as for the students (and their families) who recognize the program’s potential to significantly enhance their post-secondary prospects.
For AP teachers, one might suppose that this objective would be vexing—yet another end-of-year exam that will constrain their curricular choices, stunt their classroom autonomy, and turn their pupils into cram-and-memorize machines rather than eager, deeper learners, creative thinkers, and inquisitive intellectuals.
One might also suppose that the AP program, as it has infiltrated 70 percent of U.S. public (and half of private) high schools, would be vulnerable to the anti-testing resentments and revolts of recent years. These have been largely driven by government-imposed school accountability regimes that are mostly based on the scores kids get on state-mandated assessments, especially in math and English. That’s led many schools to press teachers to devote more hours to “test prep,” minimize time spent on other subjects, and neglect topics that aren’t included in state standards (and therefore won’t be tested). It’s not unreasonable, then, to expect resistance to AP as well.