I know that students keep getting the message that taking accelerated/Advanced Placement classes is a great idea. Is this really true? What are the advantages of taking accelerated classes?
First of all, if a student has a high level of ability and interest in a particular subject, the accelerated class can offer challenges not present in “regular” classes. In addition, if a student masters all of the material in the accelerated track, including Advanced Placement classes, he or she will probably earn college credit through the AP testing program. College credit is expensive, so if you can get it for the price of a test, that’s a great deal. There is also a perception that accelerated/AP classes add some prestigious luster to a student’s high school transcript. While that may be true for some colleges, plenty of non-accelerated students matriculate at excellent colleges, so I have my doubts that “it will look good on my transcript” is a great reason for taking accelerated/AP classes. Still, because students enroll in high school classes long before they have selected a college, enrolling in accelerated classes can be a useful self-promotion strategy.
These are all valid reasons for taking accelerated/Advanced Placement classes, in my opinion. Acclerated/Advanced Placement classes offer intellectual, academic, and even financial incentives for those enrolled in them.
But then there is the grade boost. The Big Bonus. Students who take accelerated/AP classes in our district and many other districts are granted weighted grades plus a bonus for taking those classes. Even students who earn D’s in accelerated classes get the grade boost. That grade boost affects grade point average and class rank, moving accelerated students ahead of classmates who do not take accelerated classes.
I am firmly against weighted grades for accelerated/Advanced Placement classes. The other incentives for enrolling in these classes should be sufficient. In fact, a new study from the University of Texas-Dallas Texas Schools Project shows that students will still take Advanced Placement classes even if they do not receive the grade boost.
The grade boost obviously benefits the students in the accelerated classes, but my objection is due to the way it hurts other students. If Student A is moving up in class rank because of grade boosts from accelerated classes, that means Students B, C, D, and everyone below Student A are moving down in class rank. That’s not fair. Students who earn excellent grades in all regular-level classes have virtually no chance of being in the top 10% of any graduating class at our school. The other incentives mentioned above have no effect on other students. No one else is affected if a student earns college credit or has an AP class on his or her transcript. But weighted grades affect class rank, and class rank involves comparisons with other students.
So why do schools insist on luring students into accelerated/Advanced Placement classes? Good question. Does it have anything to do with the fact that U.S. News and World Report each year ranks American high schools based almost solely on the number of Advanced Placement tests given? The rankings are based not on how well students perform on those tests but on how many students take the tests. For these rankings, quantity apparently equals quality.
I believe it’s dangerous to think that accelerated or Advanced Placement classes are automatically a good idea for all students. I have seen any number of students become emotionally overwhelmed by being misplaced in accelerated classes. Two excellent books dealing with this phenomenon are Alexandra Robbins’ The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids and Denise Clark Pope’s “Doing School.”
I’m interested in your opinions on this topic. Do you think the grade bonus for accelerated and Advanced Placement classes is fair or unfair? I challenge students to respond based on what is best for all students, not just for themselves.