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C'est la Z

SIGCSE 2022 AP or not AP

While my series on APCS-A language choice is done, I wanted to write this brief addendum.

While reading comments over on Facebook under my APCS posts one caught my eye. There was a comment saying they wished the College Board would create a data science course. I responded, why not create one yourself. The response, shared I'm sure by many is that if a course doesn't have an AP designation students won't sign up for it.

This bothered me.

Now, there are two basic reasons why one can't create their own course. The first is that they don't have the background to do so. Unfortunately, this is frequently the current state of affairs in K12 CS. We're so new and as I mentioned in the earlier post, so many of our teachers have been thrown in the deep end and are just learning the CS that they need to teach. We can't expect these teachers to also generate new curriculum. This is understandable but unfortunately it also led us to where we are today with curriculum being driven largely by private parties, most notably the College Board but also other independent providers.

As I said, this is understandable and doesn't really bother me. It's the other reason that bothers me. It's that students won't take a class without AP designation or the related, my school won't let me give a class more weight unless it's AP (even though it may very well be more rigorous).

Over the past decade or so, the College Board has managed to bamboozle the public so that they unthinkingly equate AP for good. The truth is, some AP classes are good, some are bad and usually it's the teacher that makes it so. The College Board curriculum can nudge the class towards better or worse but it's the teacher that ultimately makes the grade. What's more, in cases like APCS-P the class isn't even college level. I've seen APCS-P implementations that were good High School courses but I've also seen students come out of APCS-P implementations which were worse than nothing at all. Then you some of the AP History classes which can be passed with drill and kill. At Stuy, for one of them at one point you had two possible teachers. One that would stretch you and make you think but wouldn't prepare you for the exam at all, that was on you. The other that would set you up for a 5 but you wouldn't really learn that much, mostly memorization. Side note, those two teachers are likely long gone so I don't mean to imply this dichotomy exists today.

Basically, we've given the College Board far too much influence and control over our High School curricula.

On the one hand we keep hearing that students should take more and more AP classes and on the other, colleges seem to be giving less and less credit.

The truth is, if a student is merely taking a class because it's AP then maybe they shouldn't be taking it. I know that a student might take a class for the wrong reasons and end up loving it and I also get it that at the K12 level we have a number of required classes but the bar for "good, rigorous course" shouldn't be AP.

Over the past couple of years I've noticed a bit of a pushback against the College Board. The SAT is being questioned so maybe AP is next. We can have great classes taught by great teachers developed either in house or by engaging a variety of resources. Nothing wrong with the College board being one of them but right now their the gorilla in the room. Maybe one day we'll get back to actually trusting teachers and letting them drive curriculum and instruction but I'm not holding my breath.

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