Pushing kids into the deep end of a swimming pool was once a socially acceptable method of teaching them how to swim. Today, this ‘sink or swim’ point of view is obsolete in most circles, so why does the education system continue to deal with AP courses in this light?
From their freshman year, students are told that AP classes equate success. In theory, these classes create a rigorous curriculum for those who would like a challenge, but it can be extremely overwhelming for students who are not ready for the workload and responsibility. Too much pressure can be detrimental to student’s academic performance as well as their self esteem.
According to a 2012 study, from the American Psychological Association, when 131 sixth graders were given difficult anagrams, those who were reassured that learning was difficult did significantly better, as well as felt better about their own achievement. This is just some of the mounting evidence that indicates the dangers of over-pressuring students.
When students are led to believe that they should be able to immediately excel in this difficult environment, they will perform and feel worse about themselves than those who have realistic expectations.
“AP classes are definitely helpful for preparing students for more rigorous education,” said Loy Norrix senior Lili Mead, who is currently taking two AP classes. “They definitely can be harmful to some… stress piles on and students tend to give up naturally.”
However the pressure isn’t only on the students, AP classes all lead up to a large final exam, which determines whether a student passes or fails, despite having no basis in the students in class performance. Meanwhile an NEA study showed that 72% of teachers experience “moderate” to “extreme” pressure to improve their test scores. The same survey also reports that 45% of educators have actually considered leaving the profession because of standardized testing. In a higher stakes environment, these stresses are only exacerbated.
Because AP classes are supposed to model a college course, most teachers would understandably like to move through the materials quickly and efficiently. Expectations are high and when students struggle, it can lead to tense relationships between the teacher and student. Those who are having genuine trouble with the amount of the work may see the teacher as unfair, while the teacher might view the student as lazy. In actuality, neither of these things are certain, but it can be hard for both sides when they are mutually dealing with negative blowback; teachers who are being constantly evaluated by administrators, and students with their grades.
Ultimately, there are many benefits to AP classes, but the current handling of them needs to be reevaluated. Classes would run smoother and more efficiently if every student was encouraged to take the courses that matched their ability, rather than cram their schedules with what looks superficially good. Schools should acknowledge the difficulty of these courses instead of shaming students who cannot handle this environment. Pushing oneself is healthy, but putting yourself in a situation that you are totally unprepared will inevitably lead to anxiety issues.
If you are considering an AP class, understand the level of difficulty and be sure you are committed enough to the subject and the course to follow through; otherwise, find a class that will push you, without making you feel like you’re drowning.