Teaching to the Test Destroys the Spirit of AP
Assess the validity of the following statement:
"AP enhances the teaching of history at the high school level."
So how would I answer this FRQ if it came up on this year's AP U.S. History exam? Well I would address the entire question by recognizing that the cachet of Advanced Placement, the implied and accepted rigor associated with AP, and the depth of content required by the course can all be seen as positive elements which enhance the experience of taking AP U.S. History in high school. However the focus of my essay would have to be a thesis like this:
AP no longer enhances the teaching of history at the high school level because the constraints of "teaching to the test" have overwhelmed my ability to provide a meaningful intellectual challenge to my students.
At a time of year when I, and I imagine most of my APUSH peers, am flying through the content of the course, covering World War II in three days, I ask myself why am I doing this? Why don't I take one of our extended periods to hold a study group session on the historiographic debate over the dropping of the atomic bomb? In the long run, wouldn't my students' investigation into the complexities of presidential decision-making be more beneficial to them than the multiple-choice, text-driven drills with which we occupy our time instead? Wouldn't such a curricular decision make the students, as Howard Zinn admonished them to be in our first reading of the school year, more active and engaged members of our society? And isn't that OUR (teachers of history) primary responsibility?
I firmly believe that a multi-perspectival examination of our nation's history provides the perfect context in which to teach the rigorous analytical writing and critical thinking skills our students need to play a meaningful role in their community. The specter of the AP test has made this less and less possible, and less and less valued over the years. If we want to tell the stories, give the students time to mull over their meaning, and provide them with the supportive atmosphere to express their views orally and in writing, the perennial "paper chase" toward test prep has got to stop.
AP classes have always been marketed as providing a college experience for high school students. The irony is that a great high school honors history class, liberated from the time constraints associated with teaching to the test, can provide a richer and more satisfying intellectual experience than most introductory-level college courses.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away students who successfully completed an AP course could expect to receive college credit. While this was never the be-all and end-all of reasons for taking AP courses, the opportunity to save thousands of dollars in college tuition was at least a concrete justification for the Advanced Placement appellation. Today increasing numbers of top-end colleges no longer offer graduation credit. So my question becomes, what is left of the benefit once provided by AP?
For me the answer is, nothing!