I taught Advanced Placement History and Geography for four years during which time I participated in the annual Reading (where the essay portions of the exams are graded) twice and attended a number of official week-long AP trainings. I was in love with the AP World History course – but the relationship soon became rocky. Despite our collective best efforts, the students at my open-enrollment high-poverty school struggled to be successful on the exam. We tried Saturday school, tutorial, vertical alignment, longer school days, meticulous tracking of knowledge and skills and still we struggled to see passing scores beyond 15% of all students. The percentage passing was even less in subjects like AP Literature and AP Biology.
What is worse is that my students went on to college unprepared to write expository essays simply because there was no time in the AP curriculum to accommodate teaching students to write a research paper. It was so hard to hear how my students struggled in basic classes because they were unsure how to use MLA citations or find reliable sources. At my school, we began to wonder just how college preparatory courses a mile wide but an inch deep really were . . . how many history courses did you take in college that 1) covered 10,000 years of history in one exam and 2) involved 70+ multiple choice questions?
For IDEA College Prep the solution was moving to the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum which all but eliminates multiple choice, narrows content matter to specific objectives, and includes out-of-class research papers and labs. Because IB places emphasis on analysis and skills over content knowledge, students who might struggle to read a college-level text or engage in route memorization are actually more successful. This past year, IDEA’s second year of producing IB graduates, 45% of students passed their history exam. Today I was fascinated to read about how some of the most elite schools in the country are getting rid of AP altogether. Check out this short but pithy article over at Mindshift for the more background about schools making this shift.