Leave it to a high school junior to sum up my own feelings about the AP American history curriculum:
The overriding goal is to crack the AP test. That means taking a lot of practice tests — week after week, filling in those bubbles in class. It means researching past AP exams to predict what will be on the test. It means answering model AP essay questions for homework. It means brute memorization. My classmates ask: Will there be more questions on the American Revolution or World War I? What do we really have to know about mercantilism? Their unspoken question is: If I blow the AP test, can I still get into a good college?
In class, we cannot stray from the AP regimen. A few weeks ago, we were rushing through the 1960s with lightning speed. The Vietnam War is a fog. Somehow the New Frontier turned into the Great Society, which I always confuse with the New Freedom, the New Nationalism and the New Federalism. And what does CORE stand for?
Today is my last day with my AP students before tomorrow’s test. I hope they do well on it, but I have to admit to feeling ambivalent about the "big day." The level of tension among many of my students has gradually increased over the past few weeks and it has become much more difficult to engage in serious dialog. They’ve entered the "just the facts please" mode which leaves little room for the bigger questions and debates. What I dread most of all is that my students will evaluate their progress in this course based on their AP score which usually arrives in July. I also get to see the grades, but to be completely honest I don’t place much stock in them. The final grade that I give each student is based on a much richer body of information that the AP Test cannot measure. I don’t feel much excitement about having come to the end of the year; what I find myself contemplating is whether all the work put into the year has been nothing more than preparation for a standardized test created by people who have no idea what went on in my class.
On a more personal level, I thoroughly dislike the way the course ends. Most of my students are taking other AP courses, which means that during the week of exams I never have a full class. There is little opportunity to bring the class to a close with final thoughts or to introduce some kind of lesson that allows my students to think about the year as a whole. Unlike other schools we do not meet as a class after the AP Test. I think this is unfortunate as I have grown quite attached to my students.
I recently completed work on a committee here at school set up to evaluate our AP program. We had some very interesting discussions and our final report will hopefully lead to some changes. I look forward to the day when I can add my name to the growing list of AP dropouts.