A reader commented on an ongoing discussion of Advanced Placement courses and the rating of high schools according to how many students, ready or not, take them.

She writes:

“The highly publicized rankings based on AP tests taken did a lot of harm in my sons’ high school. AP courses used to attract the students who were genuinely ready for college-level work, but about seven years ago, the school system instituted a policy that required every student who took an AP course to take the AP exam, and also began to push students into AP who did not really need to be there. There were parent meetings about AP and IB and the message was sent that if our kids wanted to be high achievers, they would take these classes. Soon, through school system pressure and peer pressure, a two-tiered system developed where the “smart” kids were in AP, and “everyone else” was in regular classes. The school began to make the “Challenging High Schools” list, but the teachers (who are evaluated by students scores on the tests and not just by how many take them) were now under great pressure to keep their scores up. They could not afford to slow down, or to differentiate for students with learning differences, or do much at all for those who were just not ready for the level of difficulty of the AP courses. It was sink or swim, and a lot of kids sank.

“My older son was a high achiever and a good tester, so he did fine, although we got a rude shock when he got to college and realized that acceptance of AP scores varies HIGHLY from university to university and even from school to school within a university. Almost none of his high scores actually allowed him to skip college courses.

“My younger son has some learning differences, and AP courses were frustrating and overwhelming for him, while at the same time, his non-AP courses were, as he put it, “filled with slackers”. Fortunately we had a very good counselor who was able to transfer him to classes that were a better fit. He has now graduated, but I hear from friends that the school’s policy for next year is NO TRANSFERS OUT of AP, even if the student is failing. So many kids were bailing on AP that it was messing up class sizes.

“I firmly believe that students do better if they are challenged, but AP is not for every student. It is not even for most students.”