Others whove seen packed AP classes around the country say widespread enrollment can cheat both high- and low-performing kids.
I think its a lose-lose for everybody except the reputation of the school, said Peter Gwynn, an education blogger at TeachBad.com and former Washington, D.C., teacher fired under the evaluation system left behind by former chancellor Michelle Rhee. At his former school in Washington, D.C., there were no regular or honors English classes, just AP.
At Dillard High, which had one of the lowest passing rates in Broward in 2012, Principal Cassandra Robinson wants to see students take non-AP versions of certain subjects, like world history, before diving into the more difficult AP sections. She encourages students to take their first AP class in an area theyre interested in. In general, many students excel in music and art because thats what they do in their free time, Robinson said.
Research shows that exposing students to more rigorous courses benefits them academically both in high school and in college, she said.
Still, in instances where a student bombs an AP course, and in the process lowers his or her GPA, Robinson said she worries about that student becoming less attractive to college admissions officers. I really have mixed feelings about that, she said.
Stephanie King, a retired Miami-Dade teacher, thinks of AP as training steps for college: The first year they got a 1, the second year they got a 2, the third year they went to college and were able to get passing grades in college.
The problem, King said, came in 2010 when AP and other accelerated classes were added to the states formula to calculate high school letter grades. Some schools, like Dillard in Broward and North Miami Beach in Dade, put more kids into AP courses who werent prepared and many teachers werent ready, either.
At Miami Senior High, the AP coordinator and chemistry teacher Erick Hueck, said they have tried to build the program at a deliberate pace and with extra support. That means tutoring, test prep guides, parent seminars, even signature AP survival T-shirts for motivation.
Its something I believe heartily. We need to push the kids but support them when you push them. Otherwise, its not going to work, Hueck said.
The growth in AP classes goes back to 1999, when then-Gov. Bush met with the College Board in Tallahassee. Bush wanted more kids to move into college, regardless of their home ZIP code, recalled Jenny Oren Krugman, a Miami-Dade teacher and College Board trustee who attended the meeting.
Gaston Caperton, head of the College Board, offered to help. Negotiations were led by John Winn, who was then working in the Florida DOE and later became education commissioner.
Here is how it works:
• Florida would pay the AP exam fees $87 each. It is one of three states to pick up the entire tab for the exam.
• For every student who gets a passing score, teachers receive $50. In schools that are rated D or F, teachers can get an extra $500 for one student who passes. There is a $2,000 cap on teacher bonuses. No other state gives out such monetary rewards for AP.
• When calculating state-issued letter grades, Florida awards points for AP and other accelerated coursework. Higher letter grades mean more money and prestige for schools.