Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Why AP Courses Are Overrated

By Gideon TeitelPublished January 1, 2017

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More people are taking APs, but are they the right people, are the costs fair, and most importantly are the curriculums advantageous?
By Gideon Tietel

In John Tierney's 25 years of teaching none of the AP courses he taught came close in difficulty or comprehensiveness to his college courses.
[1] AP courses do not save students as much money in tuition as years past. This is because most students fail the tests (score 1 or 2) and very few score a score that a university deems acceptable for college credit (score 4 or 5). Using AP credit today generally doesn't allow you to opt out of a class, but rather enables you to skip a level. According to the Harvard published research, "APA Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program"Ā, taking APs do not aid a student in graduating on time or saving money.[2]


The popularity of APs have increased 50% by a million students, but the number of people that actually pass the tests has remained the virtually the same, showing that the College Board has profited more while students as a whole haven't actually benefited more. In response to the declining AP passing rates, which have been verified by USA Today, the College Board astonishingly said that all students benefit whether they pass or not.[3] If a student fails a course they obviously would have benefited from either taking a less demanding course or studying something that piqued their interest.Many schools that do offer APs allow anyone to enroll in them, which ultimately results in classes, which contain mostly unqualified students as reported by their own teachers.[4] At the same time, AP classes have also not been accessible enough to minority students and could be viewed as a barrier to their success in college admissions.[5]

Most teachers believe that AP classes should resemble honors classes and be reserved for those who truly want to excel and not be slowed down.[6] To make matters worse, as the standards for AP classes have been diluted, non-AP classes have had increasing class sizes, diminishing honors distinctions, and dwindling capable teachers.[7] Many AP classes just go about the subject matter in a swift and superficial manner as teaching to the test is encouraged. 90% of teachers surveyed by a Fordham Institute study believed that students were just taking the APs to improve their college resumes and not because they had a genuine interest in going deeper into the course material.[8] Yes there may be some students who genuinely want to take all the APs from Calculus to Art History, but the point is that the average ambitious student should not be pressured to spread themselves to thinly with a laundry list of APs.

           The public records of the College Board's profits was 8.6% of revenue, which Americans for Educational Testing Reform AETR says is dubious for a non-profit. Charging $89 to take a single exam isn't cheap, especially as there has been a race for students to rack up as many APs as possible when applying to selective schools.[9] The greatest tragedy is that many bright students are pressured to take all of these subjects to give the appearance of being well-rounded, when in reality they are developing an expertise in any particular field and are getting overcharged in the process. This AP frenzy at the expense of intellectual inquiry is exactly why one of the best schools in the nation, Scarsdale public High School, offered AT (Advanced Topics) at the expense of AP classes.

Now, instead of the cursory 400 year race through literature of AP English, Scarsdale students can now take an advanced course that spends a week per author of in depth coverage. Scarsdale students spend less time memorizing the dates and disconnected facts on AP tests and saw a 4% boost in attendance of the top 80 universities.
[10] Scarsdale had successfully followed suit of Fieldston, another top high school, which dropped APs in 2001.[11] Ultimately, APs are a useful tool for only the most capable students who have a financial need to graduate in a timely fashion. Otherwise, we are selling our bright students short when we put them through humanities APs, which centralize around mind-numbing facts rather than the "heart" of the subject. Worst of all, the majority of people who take APs shouldn't even be there and thus APs have hampered the educational development of so many Americans who were in over their heads.




[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/ap-classes-are-a-scam/263456/
[2] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/30/ap
[3] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/30/ap and https://www.totalregistration.net/AP-Exam-Registration-Service/2016-AP-Exam-Score-Distributions.php
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/education/29class.html
[5] http://www.chronicle.com/article/AP-Test-TakersScores/130711/
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/education/29class.html
[7] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/30/ap
[8] https://edexcellence.net/template/index.cfm
[9] http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/ap-classes-are-a-scam/263456/
[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/education/07advanced.html
[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/04/education/04EDUCATION.html?pagewanted=all