This article will be relatively short, but possibly not so sweet.
I frequently see challenging AP exam questions appear on classroom chapter tests. This practice is common in both math and science AP classes.
These questions typically are rather involved, multi-step problems and require a level of subject mastery that only comes with time and practice. Unfortunately I see questions of this nature appear on chapter tests as early as the first test of the school year!
My feeble understanding is that chapter tests are designed to assess a student’s mastery of the material in the chapter just completed, not to test their ability to synthesize knowledge from the entire course, particularly when the course has just begun!
The results of this practice are not pretty. Students often become frustrated; they begin the year with low grades, and they doubt their ability to recover and learn the subject.
A student’s GPA is much more important to them than their AP test scores, so why do teachers engage in this practice?? I frequently hear students mention that teachers want to “keep up their AP pass rates,” but teachers supposedly receive no compensation or reward for doing this. Something does not add up…
Are teachers trying to wash students out of their class early to lower class sizes or teachers’ workloads?
Are teachers trying to drop students “for their own good” early because students sign up for too many AP classes?
Do teachers think this practice challenges students appropriately? When I taught and gave tests, if my students did poorly, I would always ask myself if I was at fault and needed to reteach a topic. AP classes tend to just “keep on truckin’.”
I’d really like to hear the thinking behind this practice if anyone dares to speak publicly.
I am all in favor of challenging students, but my entire purpose in teaching is to encourage students to take up math and science as a profession, not make them hate the subjects!! A properly designed challenge problem on a test should make a student stretch, but not always fail utterly. Save the really difficult problems for homework where there is less time pressure!
Early in the school year, these AP exam questions are usually too much of a stretch, so, if they absolutely have to be included on a chapter test (which I doubt), why not make them extra credit problems instead of using them to trash students’ grades?
Later in the year these questions are fair game, but putting them on chapter tests in the first part of the first semester is a dubious pedagogical practice.
We will not train a new generation of scientists and engineers if students have to recover from a failed beginning via a constant grind through a series of trap-filled tests. This does not promote love of the subject material!
Parents, please take the time to get involved with your child’s education and learn what is going on! Talk to your kids and see if they are impacted by this practice. If it does not seem fair to you, then please speak up!
As I mentioned in my previous article, the AP curriculum is interesting and challenging, but I often think that we would be better off if teachers just taught the subject material, gave classroom tests, and chucked the national exam. That way they could proceed at a rate suitable to the abilities of the students in their class (and would not waste most of the month of May after the AP exam!).
The Educational Testing Service would not be happy about this though (to the tune of $90/student!). And how would students get into Ivies?!?!?
Hmm… despite my “love of learning” naiveté, two of my students from last year are now at Cornell 😉 .