Counter Point: Mandatory AP classes benefit students, help close achievement gap

Etta Harkness Bartholdi, Staff Writer

Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH)  was a struggle for me. I found the work hard to keep up with, I found the tests near impossible, and I found the workload and expectations my teachers had of me hard to cope with. Looking back a year later, APUSH was one of the best classes I have taken at South. It helped prepare me for the classes I am taking now, and if I hadn’t taken it, I would not be in a PSEO class and I would not be able to handle the work that I have for my other classes. AP classes are required for good reason; they teach students that they do have the ability to handle college level work.

Before the requirement of AP classes, South had a program called Triple E (Environment, Empowerment, Essentials). This program was for the students who live in the South High area who did not apply for Liberal Arts, All Nations, or Open. Counselor Jackie Mosconi explained that Triple E had a higher percentage of minority students and students of lower socioeconomic standing than the rest of the school. “The students in that program ended up not doing as well, not coming to school that often, and they were not prepared for college,” said Mosconi.

“What we did was to take on this big task and look at racial equity in our building and we looked at who is taking classes, and why are they taking them?” Mosconi continued. “We did a survey and we asked students why they were taking history instead of AP history and the kids told us, ‘I don’t know anyone in there; I’m not comfortable.’ And that’s not who we are. It’s not okay that our building is divided.” This lack of diversity in advanced classes was a problem, and it was after this realization that the school required AP classes.

The phrase “Advanced Placement” has a connotation that only some students are capable of taking advanced classes, depending on their background and how they were raised. “Without that access, some people would say that they’re not that student,” AP Language and Composition teacher Tanya Hodge articulated. “I believe that every student that walks into my classroom is capable.” Some students were raised with the expectation that they would take hard classes and challenge themselves, but some students never had this expectation to live up to. Requiring AP classes lets those students know that they are capable of rising to higher expectations.

Like in every class, there are always students that don’t want to be there. Despite this, we shouldn’t create an environment with no challenges. The answer is not to just push less motivated students into easy-A courses where they will read the same book every year and write one paper. They need to be put into hard classes, and they need to expand their learning skills and ability to work at a college level. Hodge strongly believes that “every student needs to have access and that means right now, requiring it.”

On top of dissolving the negative connotation and minimizing the racial achievement gap, AP classes are required because the classes prepare students for college better than the average class.  “AP classes are designed to prepare high school students for the rigors of college-level work,” the College Board reports. “Studies have shown that the rigor of a student’s high school curriculum is the single best predictor of success in college.” As a high school, we should have a goal that South graduates are prepared for college level work.

Not only do required AP classes increase diversity in the classrooms, but “the college board is always making the course better, trying to make the course more culturally aware,” praised Hodge. “They’re willing to work and not just look at the world we live in and just accept it.” Required AP classes are the best way to achieve a college-ready goal. Many students learn how to write a well crafted essay, how to keep track of homework, and how to take notes they will be able to use. AP classes aren’t just about the test: “You don’t have to be a good test taker, but you are going to get the critical skills you are going to need,” said Hodge.

“I think [the requirement of AP classes] is not only a good idea, I think it’s essential,” stated Mosconi. “High school is supposed to be about struggle; we are struggling together to get to the next thing.”

Required AP classes prove to all students that they’re capable to take challenging, college-level classes. “I’ve seen how many people now have access to AP,” Hodge commented. “[That access] makes a big difference in our school and an impact in the racial achievement gap.”