Pushing AP classes has negative impacts

With the beginning of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) at East came a push for students to take more Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Students that would not have ordinarily felt comfortable or ready enough to be in specific AP classes felt the pressure this summer from their counselors to join these classes.

While being a part of AP classes can be beneficial to some, it can also create lots of unneeded stress for those that are not prepared for that level of challenge. We believe that it should be more of a team effort of the student, their counselor, and the AP teacher when determining whether or not a student is prepared for such a rigorous course.

It is no secret that AP classes are difficult, so it comes with no surprise that students that take AP classes can end up over-stressed. According to an article from U.S. News, AP students are initially drawn to the classes because of the potential for college credit, but then can get sucked in and feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

It is completely understandable that counselors would want students to challenge themselves and take courses that could better prepare them for college, but in our current NMSI culture it cannot help but feel a little forced and without pure motive.

The number of students taking AP classes has increased with NMSI, but that does not mean everyone is happy and willing participants.

A much better alternative would be to let students be in AP classes if they want to be, but then allow them to drop if they deem that it is not the best fit for them. Keeping students in classes that they do not feel prepared for can ultimately lead more to student failure rather than success.

Students can quickly fall into the pressure of these more difficult classes and when they realize they might try and switch that class. However, the problem arises when they are told by counselors to just wait it out and see if it gets better. Often times, this leads to students staying in classes until it is too late for them to switch and still receive credit.

Students that remain in AP classes after explicitly expressing their desire to drop the classes can ultimately remain in those classes and choose to give up and show a lack of effort. If they already feel overwhelmed by the workload, then being forced to stay in that class can cause them to feel hopeless and receive bad grades in the class.

In addition to this, it is pertinent that counselors and AP teachers are honest with students on what they believe the students can handle. Students may believe that they can handle more than what they can in all actuality, and there needs to be an honest discussion about whether a student’s academic history supports them being able to take a class with a higher caliber of difficulty.

It would be beneficial if students were given honest thoughts from their counselors on whether or not they should take specific courses instead of encouraging unprepared students to take AP courses which may be above their threshold for workload tolerance. Counselors should be more realistic with students about how they believe they will perform academically in more demanding classes, as what happens in their high school classes can greatly impact their future academic careers.

Getting bad grades on a transcript after being forced to stay in classes that a student is unprepared for can not only impact the student’s perception of themselves, but also impact where the student will go to continue their education or even if they decide to continue their education post-high school. While taking AP classes does generally look better to potential colleges, having failing or near failing grades in those classes can create a negative image of a student.

Of course there is an expectation that students know their limits and how much work they can handle, but students’ desire to take specific classes can often overshadow their realistic expectations. Taking one AP class one year and using that as a basis to take more the next year can give unrealistic standards for what those specific AP classes will be like, as each AP class is different and each has different degrees of difficulty even within the same school.

Students that sign up for AP classes (especially when it seems academically out of character) should be ready to have a serious discussion with their counselors about the amount of work that is expected for them to complete in each class. Pushing students into classes without making them aware of the consequences can negatively impact their academic future.

AP classes are meant to be difficult and they are meant to make students start to learn at a more advanced level and prepare them for college, but it needs to be understood that some students are not prepared to work at that level even if they believe they are.

For some students AP classes are the correct fit and are just difficult and fast-paced enough that they feel academically challenged while still being able to stay on top of their grades and extracurriculars. For other students, however, AP classes cause unnecessary stress that they would not be experiencing in a class that is at a more reasonable pace for them to handle.

The argument could be made for increasing AP enrollment and the benefits that could have on the students, but ultimately deciding not to take AP classes should not be looked down on or seen as a worse option. The best option for students is where they feel most comfortable yet academically challenged enough to make sure they are constantly learning and engaging with new material, without drowning in stress and homework.

Overall, the most important part of school is to create a learning environment where all students can become educated citizens and in order to do that, students need to be in classes where they can comfortably learn new material and topics. Students should not be pushed into being in more difficult classes, especially if the classes will ultimately cause them more stress and failure. What classes students takes should be up to them, and it is choices like these that ultimately shape students’ future successes or downfalls.