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Weighing advanced placement courses vs. College Board exams

Pop quiz. Your high schooler got an A in an advanced placement course but a 2 (not so good) on the College Board exam.

Do you:

a. Wear a hat and sunglasses to the supermarket;

b. Lodge a complaint against that good-for-nothing teacher; or

c. Write another check to music camp like nothing happened?

The correct answer is "none of the above," although my husband and I will wind up doing "c."

Two weeks of testing wraps up today. And like a lot of parents, we are befuddled by this generation's rush to AP and a tad worried about the consequences.

Under superintendent MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough County opened up AP dramatically to students of varied skill levels. The idea was to shake up things by raising expectations of all students, instead of allowing AP to remain the bastion of the academic elite.

Some teachers, setting their sights on their students instead of the test, wound up with pass rates as low as 10 percent, causing this newspaper to question if the test fees — which the district pays — are money well spent.

Some insist it is. "I will continue to push students into advanced placement because the experience will make them better prepared for the future," Plant High School principal Rob Nelson wrote to the Times in November.

As I shuttle to and from Idlewild Baptist Church (our school's test site, who knew?), I can't help but wonder if some of these students, parents and principals, have lost their minds.

By the time kids get to their junior year, it's not unheard of to be taking five AP classes at once. By the time they graduate, they might have taken a lot more, especially if they loaded up on the online AP classes to pad that all-important grade point average.

Pretty soon you can't see your house under the Princeton Review books — unless your child blows off the tests, which happens in some cases.

And those who do show up could be scoring 1's and 2's, which do nothing for them in college.

Except … .

Nancy Hutek, a guidance counselor at Armwood High School in Seffner, said it never bothered her that her daughter, now a college sophomore, made A's and B's in her AP classes, but passed only one of seven exams.

"To me, the rigor and what she had to do in those classes helped her at the college level," Hutek said. "It's that high level of thinking."

That said, Hutek advises students to aim for balance. Don't take so many AP classes that you can't play a sport, she said. And be careful which courses you select. "Take AP courses in your strongest areas, where you are likely to succeed and get the most bang for your buck."

Time will tell if this was a worthy experiment. And I think the sad reality is that economics will be a much stronger factor in whether this generation actually makes it to college.

To those who can, I say stay the whole four years. You'll have the rest of your lives for the real world, real jobs and real responsibilities.

And you don't get extra GPA points for any of it.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@sptimes.com.

Weighing advanced placement courses vs. College Board exams 05/12/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 12, 2011 4:30am]
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