High school students taking AP level classes has become normal, if not expected. It seems in this day and age that in order to apply to certain colleges, a 4.5 GPA or higher is required, while other, traditionally less selective colleges boast an average acceptance GPA of 4.2. AP classes that at their core are intended to provide college level curriculum in high school have become an “AP race.” This both completely defeats the original purpose of Advanced Placement courses, and also creates a superficial and unfair application pool to colleges.
Advanced Placement, or AP classes are part of a program created by the College Board that exists in both the United States and Canada. These courses offer college level curriculum to high school students, and ideally allows them to challenge themselves academically. AP testing takes place at the end of the school year; each exam (which can be voluntarily taken for each AP course) costs one hundred dollars and is scored on a one to five scale, three being a passing grade. The AP test scores can be sent to colleges, but the courses also offer another benefit: a GPA boost. In high school, GPA (grade point average) is a cumulative four point scale. An ‘A’ in a class that is not Honors or AP is considered four points, an ‘B’ three, and so on. They are averaged and make up a student’s GPA. Honors and AP classes add an extra point to the scale, so that an ‘A’ is worth five points instead of four.
When students are able to reach a 5.0 by taking all AP classes, success is no longer measured on the four point scale and “average” is beyond maximum in the past years. Take Los Gatos High School, for example; thirty percent of the kids at LG had a 4.0 GPA or higher in the 2017 graduating class. Los Gatos is a top high school in relation to the rest of nation, however, kids are primarily compared within the applicant pool of their high school, so a student with a 4.1 is at the bottom of the ‘top.’ The profile sheet of LGHS, published to universities around the world, ranks our students, something we so proudly do not do. It is understandable that colleges would want to see how a student fares compared to his or her classmates, but when an outstanding student with a GPA greater than 4.0 ranks in the middle or below average relative to his or her peers, something seems off.
It appears to be an AP race. If you do not take the average or even above average number of advanced courses, you automatically pull yourself out of contention for top schools. Currently, students that take only AP and Honors classes force all of the other bright kids to either “come along” or get left behind. It seems impossible for kids to be able to pursue their passions when they are almost required to get all A’s in all APs. Not all students excel academically, just as not all students excel at sports or the arts. Everyone has a unique area of interest and talent. Those chasing the GPA encourage an unforgiving and solely academic life for themselves and others where non-academic interests are less important. I say that with hesitance, however. As much as some students enjoy performing in the theatre, some genuinely love to challenge their minds and push their learning boundaries. How can we promote the excellence of some, but not others, just because students that thrive academically directly influence the university application system on a large scale, and students that shine on the swim team do not?
The Universities of California (UC’s) have a system in which they cap the number of AP and Honors five-point A’s factored into a students total GPA at eight. Two students could have taken nine APs and fifteen APs each and regardless, both would only have the GPA boost from eight of them. The UC’s accept all of a student’s AP test scores and count AP courses as college credits, however, once a student has demonstrated their competence having taken eight AP courses, they no longer consider the GPA boost. Los Gatos High could adopt a similar principle to what the UC’s have done. LG offers many Honors and AP courses that some students take because they feel they must. We could introduce a system where a total of six to eight AP and Honors courses are factored into a student’s GPA. Beyond selecting a student’s top six AP grades, if there are more than six, an A in any class would only count as four points. Kids at LGHS would take classes that they wanted to take, beyond what AP’s constrict them to take, because they would not have to choose GPA over passion.
If Los Gatos High truly believed in passion-based learning, they should consider this system, where students could take certain Advanced Placement courses because they were truly interested in the academic challenge they pose, not because they feared being left behind without them.