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JENKINS: Are Advanced Placement classes really the best option?

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

If your high-school-age son or daughter is planning to take “Advanced Placement” courses next fall, you might want to ask yourself a couple of questions: what, exactly, makes those courses “advanced,” and what sort of “placement” do they guarantee?

You might also want to consider dual enrollment as an alternative. For those unfamiliar with DE, it’s a program offered at many Georgia colleges that allows high school juniors and seniors to take college classes, taught by college faculty, usually on a college campus.

High school officials often discourage students from going that route, because they don’t want to “lose” enrollment or the accompanying funds. But don’t let that stop you from acting in your child’s best interests.

Having dealt with Advanced Placement on a number of levels — as a professor, administrator and parent — my observation is that AP courses are generally not the equivalent of college courses and that they rarely do more than other high school classes to prepare students for college.

Dual enrollment, on the other hand, provided a wonderful introduction to higher education for my two older children, allowing them to complete most of their core requirements and earn 30-plus hours of transferable credit.

Just ask my daughter, who graduated from a selective private university at age 20.

Unlike DE, AP offers only “enhanced” high school classes, taught by high school teachers in a high school setting. Forgive me for belaboring the obvious, but that’s a lot different from being in college.

For instance, my kids’ AP teachers tended to equate academic rigor with the amount of work assigned. In fact, true rigor has more to do with the type of work students do and with the intellectual processes required of them.

Early in her dual enrollment experience, my daughter was struggling with a political science essay. “I’m supposed to write about which has more power, the House or the Senate,” she complained, “but I don’t know.”

I explained that she wasn’t supposed to KNOW; she was supposed to THINK. “Decide what you think,” I told her, “then write a well-reasoned argument supported by evidence.”

“Oh,” she said, clearly taken aback. “No one’s ever asked me what I thought before.”

This from a veteran of numerous AP courses, none of which provided her with the kind of “Aha!” moment she experienced in her first semester of real college coursework.

Another problem is that Advanced Placement doesn’t necessarily place students into anything. Regardless of their grade, AP students still must pass a standardized test in order to receive college credit. Nationwide, fewer than 60 percent of them succeed.

Dually enrolled students, on the other hand, leave with the grades they earn — along with the corresponding, highly transferable credit hours

So if the goal is for your kids to get college credit while still in high school, here’s a crazy idea: why not just let them go to college?

Rob Jenkins is a free-lance writer and college professor who lives in Lawrenceville. Email him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.