AP Exams should be an individualized choice



ETHS is in many ways a haven for individualized academic and extracurricular pursuits; the requirement of registration for and completion of AP exams undermines that reputation. These mandates, and the program as a whole, must be reevaluated to better adhere to students’ stress levels, financial means and future goals.

AP courses, sponsored by the College Board, cover a wide range of subjects and correspond with standardized exams administered in May. Preparation for these tests make up the bulk of most classes; while we acknowledge that this is not necessarily an administrative decision, we at the Evanstonian believe the emphasis on testing should be reduced by granting students the option to take any given AP test.

We recognize that taking AP exams can be beneficial to certain students. Students can earn college credit for certain exam scores, saving them thousands of dollars. It is important to note that the College Board website has a search bar where students can see exactly what AP scores fulfill requirements at any given college.

However, this benefit does not apply to all students. Students scoring below a 3 on the AP exam are being harmed by the current format. There is not much to be learned by scoring a 1 or 2 on the AP exam other than “you failed.” Certain classes have a defined trend of below average AP scores due to a disconnect between the curriculum and exam; it is not fair for students in such classes to be forced into an exam only to “underachieve.”

Some ETHS teachers have expressed that there is a strong correlation in classroom performance and AP exam performance. That is not to say a student is not learning anything from a class they are not performing well in. There are certainly college preparation skills acquired in AP classes. However, once test-time comes around, there is little to gain from taking the exam if you are struggling in the class.

Of course, there is a prominent financial aspect of AP exams too. For students who are not on free or reduced lunch plans, AP exams cost $95. Many students take multiple AP exams in a year, resulting in substantial financial commitments. For a student who is going to get that college credit, that $95 is well worth it. But for a student who is going to sit down and take a nap, that cash goes down the drain. The interesting part about the price tag on the test is that students never have a choice. In fact, the first time most parents are made aware that they are paying hundreds of dollars for AP exams is when they get the invoice.

This is not the same at all schools. For example, at New Trier High School, students ARE given the option of whether or not they have to take the AP exam. If students opt out of the exam, they still earn the “AP grade bump,” meaning that the class’s GPA is out of 5.0. In past years, ETHS students would earn Honors credit if they did not take the AP exam. However, if students advocate for themselves as to why they want to opt out of the exam, they, too, will earn the AP GPA bump that everyone who takes the test earns.

Now, why does it matter? Why does the administration want students to take these AP exams so badly? There are certainly good intentions, such as those mentioned above: preparation for college, earning college credit, saving money in the future, and challenging yourself. However, there is one underlying incentive that we at the Evanstonian speculate has some impact on ETHS’ current attitude towards AP exams: US News and World Report Rankings.

According to US News and World Report (the publication that ranks the best high schools in the country), the final step in determining their rankings is through a “College Readiness Index.” This is determined 75% by number of seniors who PASSED AP exams divided by number of seniors, and (here is the catch) 25% of this index is determined by number of seniors who took AP exams divided by number of seniors. So, ETHS is being ranked based off of AP exam participation.

Rankings are important. They draw interest to the city, boost our school’s excellence, and shed light on all the great things happening at ETHS. However, we should not sacrifice students’ well-being for US News and World Report Rankings.

Taking AP exams can be an important experience for those who will score a 3 or above.  We at the Evanstonian believe that students should be able to make the decision of whether or not the AP exam will benefit them financially, educationally, and from a self-esteem aspect. We get the message: it is bad to fail. So, why should we set our students up to do that?