There are many questions in my mind today as a parent of a high school senior. I wonder if his education has prepared him for what is ahead–the world of the future. The school claims it is doing this, and very well I might add, as they publicize their success on a variety of standardized tests: SAT, ACT, and AP. He has taken everything that is supposed to be the most rigorous, yet his school has little to no understanding or support of anything STEM. They believe that if they increase their access to technology-note I said access not development and understanding of what technology is(something new answering a want or need)–and offer the science and mathematics courses that are advanced, students will be prepared. According to US News and World Report, this high school is ranked 11th in the state of Colorado, and #408 in the US. A reminder that these rankings are based on very specific facts: the methodology is HERE. You can take what you will from their method to arrive at these rankings. As with ranking anything; it is what it is. It doesn’t define anything but exactly what they have measured.
This school also received a ranking of #128 as a STEM school. To determine the top science, technology, engineering and math schools, U.S. News looked at the top 500 public schools from our latest Best High Schools rankings, and then evaluated their students’ participation and success in Advanced Placement (AP®) science and math tests. Click for the STEM methodology. Just FYI, STEM is not just science and math renamed. Why would we need to do that?
So a rational conclusion would be that any child who has participated in the large amount of AP classes, especially high level science and math, would be ready to pursue STEM subjects in higher education. I think this conclusion is false because I am not sure that those courses prepare students. At the same time, they could. Students need to study engineering design, understand design thinking and as a result, become excellent managers of their own education in addition to being problems solvers and great critical thinkers–all of which is not easy to test. These learning skills for the most part are observed through students’ reasoning skills, writing with detailed explanations and application of knowledge. These criteria are the ones that give value added to prepare for STEM literacy, college or career. My point is AP courses are not all created equally and doing well on the test may or may not mean a student is really prepared for higher education and the rigor of the science and mathematics offered there. So not taking AP courses doesn’t seem like the best option either. Could or should one expect to be prepared in the “regular” science and math?
I find myself wondering what is the teacher training and criteria to teach an AP course? Do the teachers follow the outline from The College Board? Does he or she use old tests as a guide? Does one stress and expect rigor, depth and application of knowledge? Is there a teacher measuring stick to have an appropriate amount of content knowledge? Do you think that smart, capable students will thrive anyway, so you don’t worry about whether or not this is really good preparation for the future?
Excerpted from The Hechinger Report article on AP tests and current and future changes: Dartmouth’s Psychology Department gave more than 100 students who received a perfect five out of five score on the AP Psychology exam, a condensed version of the school’s final for its introductory psychology course – 90 percent failed.
Recent time and research has shown that instruction is everything. It is the knowledge and methods of the teacher that guarantee success. It is worth putting the most effort into this area of education: provide high quality excellent instruction and results and outcomes will be the best. It is not the courses that the students take or what they learn, it is how they learn it and what applicable knowledge they take away from that learning experience and file away for use at a later date.
Does AP offer a value added education for students to prepare for the future? The answer is very specific-it depends of who is teaching and how it is taught. Can AP demand more rigor to truly replicate college instruction? I don’t know the answer to that. But, it seems to me that if we are going to offer this education to students we must find a way to ensure that they get what they think they are getting. Taking AP courses should not be simply a medium for students to raise their GPA and artificially enhance their achievement. Schools participate in this practice BIG TIME. In the long run, what does that teach?
If we want a value-added STEM education to prepare students for college and career, and above all, make them STEM literate students, how do we do this? STEM education, AP or not, should be for all, not for just those who are considered capable for AP courses. Again, another reason for a paradigm shift in teacher training and successful instructional models.