AP classes are not equitable for students

Jona Jancewicz

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You’re rushing, you have five minutes left, but you still have 10 multiple-choice questions to go. You sit there thinking about what to do, but your procrastination takes so long that when you look back at the clock there are two minutes left. But, wait, you’re in AP World. There is a grade curve, you are saved.

Next period you won’t be so lucky, it’s AP Environmental Science (APES). Another test, more procrastination and more last-minute guesses. But, unlike AP World there is no curve for the questions you miss. Now, why is that? Both are AP classes, and while some may view some AP classes as more challenging than others, they are still all advanced placement.

Students take notes to prepare for the timed writing later in the quarter. In AP Literature, students do not have grade curve for large all task assignments. (Photo by Jona Jancewicz)

The goal for all AP classes is to prepare students for the AP exam, in order to obtain college credit. The classes are described as college-level courses, for high school students to take. That in itself shows that all of these courses will provide some level of challenge. So I understand why there is a grade curve for some AP courses, but what I don’t understand is the inconsistency.

Why is there no curve in AP Psychology, while there is one for AP Art History? Why do some courses such as AP World History only use a curve for some assignments, while other AP courses have a curve for every all tasks assignment? The curve is not used remotely in the same way across all AP classes.

This lack of consistency affects how students prepare for and take tests. If you are in an AP class that uses a curve for every task assignment, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that students would not take the class as seriously. But, if you are in a class such as APES, which is a notoriously difficult course that has no grading curve, you would lose a lot of hope in getting a good grade.

Grades are the single most important thing to a high school student. Others would say a good learning environment is more important. Learning and becoming a better student does not have quite the same impact as grades do on a college application.

You might say that learning and becoming a better student are not mutually exclusive to getting good grades. I agree that there is an association between the two, but in the case of AP college-level courses, there is a disconnect.

Let’s say you are taking an APES test. For the past two weeks, you have been studying for the unit test, you stayed in for lunch to ask your teacher questions, you gave your full attention every class period and you learned all the material to the best of your ability. Then you get your results back, 18/30.

A C grade, for a 50-point test. Some may say that it is not the end of the world, that what is most important is that you tried your best and did everything you could to prepare. This is incorrect. High school is a vessel for students to prepare for their future, and for many that future is college. So when I get a test score such as that, and my grade suffers to the extent that I may not be able to get back to where I need to be, it feels like the world is ending.

That is the frustration, that in some cases no matter how hard I try, or anyone tries, there are certain situations where there is an almost certainty of low grades. Students should be rewarded, not punished for taking college-level courses.

Now, I am not advocating for content to be easier, or curriculum to change, but for the use of the grade scale to change. Each AP class should have the same scale to grade assignments. This would make it fair to all students taking the courses. Furthermore, the scale should not be used for every all tasks assignment, which is unnecessary. The perfect balance is to have a curve for every unit test or assignment that is large enough to completely destroy a student’s grade.

Now imagine taking a class as difficult as AP Calculus B/C. You have a giant unit test looming over the horizon. Stress builds as the test comes closer, but you realize you have the curve. The stress levels go down from Defcon one to Defcon five. There is a safety net, one that is equitable to all students in an AP class. So when you have that test, lab or project it is not about getting an A, but doing the best you possibly can.