As I’ve outlined in my previous posts, I’ve been pondering how to guide our kids to the best path of success, starting in high school by analyzing success factors. One answer might be that you try to move into a school district according to the high school ratings. Our school ranks well in U.S. News 2014 Best High Schools Rankings, but what does this mean?
I started thinking about this when we noticed that high school kids at our school seemed to have over-whelming schedules and then noted our own experiences with a full schedules of preAP and AP classes.
In my last post, I gave a quick rundown of my take on The Smartest Kids in the World: and how they got that way, by Amanda Ripley.
What I took from that was that was that based on the studies of Finland and Poland’s educational systems, stress, test, and retest might not be necessary for success. And South Korea’s school system shows that a high stress and test environment has some definite drawbacks.
So I was surprised that when I started reading Amanda Ripley’s blog, I kept running into statistics that used AP tests as a measure of whether of a high school was an academic success. She seems to agree with using AP tests as a way to determine school ratings.
Along with that, when the rankings of the best high schools by U.S. News was released, what did they use to rank them? Performance on AP tests.
This is why you’ll hear high school administrators recommend again and again that high school students take as many AP classes as possible.
I found myself once again considering the worth of AP classes. But on the other hand, it made me wonder if Ripley – or the other experts ranking high schools – have any personal experience with taking AP classes and tests. Because I’d really like to know if all the time and angst spent on the over-whelming homework load is worth it. (Particularly in English and History AP classes – they seem to have the most homework.)
But there was one other bit of information I found interesting.
At the end of the book, Ripley gives an interesting guide to try to assess high schools if you’re trying to choose a school district or private school for high school. I think it makes more sense if you read the book before you read this portion, but there was one take away yielded an interesting result for me personally. She said that when you tour the high school, students should be able to tell you what they are studying in each class and why they are studying it.
My son was in the room as I read that part so I asked him for a quick rundown of his sophomore classes.
He could tell me what he was studying in each class.
Then I asked him why he was studying each subject.
He was able to tell me the why in every class, including preAP Algebra II and preAP Chemsitry…
Until we got to his AP World History class.
(This is a full AP class, meaning at the end of the year he takes a test for college credit. The other two classes are supposed to “prepare you” for more advanced AP math and science classes later.)
I think I should stop and give you a little bit of information here, to put his answer in perspective. This is a student who really likes history. History was one of his favorite subjects in 8th grade. He likes his current teacher, which he also had for AP Human Geography last year. He likes to discuss questions like why cable companies have a monopoly on internet service and he loves the YMCA Youth in Government Program.
I mentioned in a previous post, that his two AP history classes have had tremendous homework loads. He made a 4 on his first AP test last year as a Freshman. (A 3 is usually considered passing although some universities are starting to require a 4 or even a 5 for credit. Most AP classes are offered junior and senior year because of their difficulty.) I helped him review a bit for the test last year and was impressed by the massive amount of information and esoteric vocabulary that he knew. (And that’s coming from someone who uses the word “esoteric.”)
So, back to my line of questioning. In AP History, they were studying something really interesting like, “What effect does Russian history have on its relationship with the United States today?” But when I asked him why they were studying that, he said…
“Um…. Because it’s on the AP test?”