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I just attended my daughter’s open house at a San Diego public high school last week and left depressed. She is taking three AP classes and an honors math class and is on one of the athletic teams. What was depressing about the open house was that all the teachers could talk about was making sure the students passed the AP exams. Only one in about 140 passed the AP biology class from that school last year, the teacher told the parents. “We’re doing everything we can to change that this year,” she said, with fire nearly coming from her nostrils. So they’re using a college text book. The history teacher also proudly held a college-level text book. The English teacher told of the college classes students would be able to bypass if they passed the AP exam. All of them made the claim that they would be teaching the classes so that the students would pass the test. I found this troubling.

In middle school, my kids learned subjects because they were important. Now they take classes that are taught directly toward taking a test. Something is wrong with that emphasis. The importance, the application, the synthesis of the subjects to everyday life gets minimized in this effort to pass a test. And with all due respect to high school teachers (I truly mean that qualifier. I could not do their jobs. There is a special place in heaven being prepared for them), regardless of the fact that they claim to be teaching their classes at a college level, there is a difference between a kid in high school trying to learn college-level material, and a kid in college learning college-level material. Speaking from my experience as a college professor, students are done no favors by being able to bypass composition and literature courses because they did well on the AP test. They are at a disadvantage when they take the higher level writing and literature courses in college. Science and history teachers tell me the same thing about their areas.

I don’t know if it’s an ego thing for the schools, (it does make them look good if the students get into prestigious schools) or a money-related issue, but I felt that this emphasis on teaching to the test is a great disservice to the students. The teachers’ defense is that by preparing for the test, the students will learn the subject. What I have observed now, for this is my second child to have gone through this, is that just the opposite happens. The students learn how to take a test, but the subject’s importance gets lost in the process.

DEAN NELSON

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