Today my AP students take their big test. The last few weeks were a bit intense as students began the review process and continued in a race against time to finish the textbook. I have mixed feelings about the AP program. On the one hand I actually like the test. It is a nice combination of objective questions (multiple choice) and analytical essays, including the DBQ (document based question) which asks students to respond to a question with what they know (background information) along with the interpretation of a series of documents. The essays encourage interpretation and a strong analytical approach to writing. We work incessantly throughout the year developing both the necessary interpretive skills and analytical writing. The part that I don’t like is the idea of an entire year hinging on one test. All of my students have made progress and a few have made incredible strides throughout the year. I would hate for one of these kids to be reduced to thinking about the year based on one test score. Much of the anxiety about this test is related to the more general fears surrounding getting into college, which is becoming more difficult each year.
If I had my choice I would teach an Honors-type class rather than the AP. I could conduct the class at my own pace and concentrate on specific events and individuals rather than proceed in a race against time to finish an entire textbook along with a great deal of irrelevant knowledge that is needed for the test. Do they really need to know the Rush-Bagot Treaty? I have really smart kids in my two AP sections and I would love the opportunity to focus on questions and debates that would give them a much more nuanced and meaningful interpretation of the American past rather than a "superficial" overview of every event. Unfortunately, AP classes are very popular at this school especially with the parents so there is no chance of this changing any time soon.
I have to say that I am a bit nervous today. I care deeply about my students and I respect the fact that they want to do well today. They deserve to do well and I am confident they will.