At my current school, we offer students the opportunity to take AP tests.  In years past, as a young school, some AP classes were actually mandatory for our students.  However, we are growing and now offering students a choice in how they acquire credits to graduate from our school.  So, things are changing rapidly here at my school in terms of AP testing, but the reason for the high stakes test is very similar to that of a high school in America.  Of course, there are differences as well.

Quite frankly, the majority of my school’s students want to get to the U.S. to go to university with California being quite a popular destination.  As stated in the University of California’s applicant review process, participation in Advanced Placement courses and performance on those AP tests is an important part of the screening process (2014).


So, how does my school compare with high schools in the U.S. as far as our outlook on AP testing?  I’ve interviewed five teachers from my school in China and one teacher that I know from Texas.

Time spent on AP tests…
…at my school:
The teachers I interviewed gave somewhat different responses.
One teacher mentioned that they spend a good amount of time early in the school year teaching units specifically for the AP test.
Test prep in the weeks before the exam ranged anywhere from three to ten 90 minute blocks of test preparation.
All teachers reported that they were mandated by the school to give a mock test roughly 2-3 weeks before the actual AP test.
…at a U.S. school:
The teacher I interviewed from a school in Texas claimed that they spent most of the year preparing students for their AP test.

Teaching to the test…
…at my school:
More than half of the teachers interviewed claimed that they did not really “teach to the test,” but just taught content that was on the test while referring to question format and test makeup only on a rare occasion.
One teacher claimed that 90% of class time was spent teaching to the test.  However, upon follow up, I discovered that the claim was very similar to what was stated just previously.  Although this teacher feels they are teaching to the test, the fact is they are actually teaching the standards required by our school which just so happen to also be on the AP test in this content field.
…at a U.S. school:
As mentioned previously, this teacher spent a majority of their time focusing on preparing all of their students for the AP test.

Rewards and bonuses…
…at my school:
No, my school does not give rewards or bonuses as of now for student performances on AP tests and this could be for a number of reasons with one being not all students are required to take the test, even if they take an AP class.  However, one teacher did mention that having taught successful AP students in the past has bolstered their reputation amongst the community, which felt like a reward.
…at a U.S. school:
The teacher discussed recently hearing news about teachers from North Carolina getting bonuses for high AP scores, but this was not something that they were familiar with.  After a quick Google search, I found information on the North Carolina rumor to be completely true.

Students’ reaction to the pressure…
…at my school:
On one side, some teachers reacted strongly to this question saying that the pressure was great and that our students could be better served by studying smarter, not harder.
The other side said that because taking an AP test at our school is optional, there is actually less pressure to perform well in the class, let alone on the test that the teacher is trying to prepare only some of their students for.
…at a U.S. school:
This teacher claimed that “of course there is pressure” and it is typically not healthy.  However, students are encouraged to study correctly and are referred to a counselor if there is a sense that they are under too much pressure.

AP scores in relation to teacher evaluation…
…at my school:
While the general consensus was “no,” some teachers interviewed did argue that any data can be used indirectly on a teacher evaluation including how many students sign up for a test and how well those students perform.
…at a U.S. school:
Yes, past year’s student results were used as a small piece of the teacher evaluation, but it was not something that was necessarily a “deciding factor” on anything – it was just used as a reference and mentioned primarily to make this teacher “think twice” about their AP success rate.

Overall opinion on AP…
…at my school:
It is understood that people will continually take high stakes tests as they get older in order to qualify for different things, so the AP test prepares students for the life ahead by providing a high stakes test for them to take.
However, another opinion I received was that the AP test might not fully encompass all of the material and goals in the curriculum, thus does not completely assess students’ understanding of a specific content area.  I read an interesting article on the Huffington Post by Andy Moore of BroBible.com in which he pointed out that Dartmouth University decided to do a study on students who scored a 5 on their AP Psychology test by giving them the Intro to Psych final.  90% of those students failed that exam (2013).  Maybe it was due to a lack of preparation time, or maybe this claim could hold true in the future.
…at a U.S. school:
This teacher said that AP was quite important and its benefit to students in gaining university credit was very important.  The opportunity to take a class as a high school student in a high school setting, but still receive college credit in the event of a successful score on the AP test was a highlight in this teacher’s opinion.


To close, my outlook on AP testing is positive.  While I did not take any AP tests as a high school student, I did have friends that were able to prove themselves successful on multiple tests and cut down on the amount of college credits they needed to take.  AP testing does indeed provide a high stakes assessment environment that students need in order to become familiar with similar tests in the future.


References

Helms, A. D. (2017, January 01). Bonus time: Some NC teachers will get January rewards based on 2016 exam scores. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article124075484.html

How applications are reviewed. (2014). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/freshman/how-applications-reviewed/

Importance of AP Exams | Kaplan Test Prep. (2017, April 13). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://www.kaptest.com/blog/admission-possible/2017/04/13/the-rising-importance-of-ap-exams-2/

Moore, A. (2013, February 13). AP Exams Are the Biggest Scam in American Education (OPINION). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/13/ap-exams-are-the-biggest-scam_n_2647647.html

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