If you have a student in high school you know of the pressure from school, peers, parents, and elsewhere for students to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and to take and pass the AP exam with a score of 3 or better, preferably a 4 or 5. To most, this indicates that the student is ready for college-level classes and will succeed in college. At many Wisconsin universities students receive college credit for scoring a 4 or 5 on an AP exam and may be able to skip courses in the regular college curriculum.
The problem with this practice is that many school districts equate AP courses with gifted programming. They are of the mindset that because AP courses are supposed to be rigorous they will automatically challenge gifted learners. For many gifted students this is not the case.
AP courses have a prescribed curriculum and timeline the teacher must follow. It is important to get through the material and stay on the timeline so students are prepared to take the AP exam in the spring, and so the school can continue to offer the AP courses. One AP course may be taught one way in one district, but taught differently in another district even though the content and timeline are supposed to be the same, and AP teachers are supposed to be trained to teach the courses the same way. Because of this approach from the College Board who sponsors AP courses, the inquiry and depth of exploration, knowledge, and investigation that gifted students crave is often not possible in AP courses. Many gifted students do not like AP courses because they cannot study the topic with the depth and breadth they need.
If one goes outside of Wisconsin many universities do not accept AP courses for credit to replace college classes. These universities require students to take classes at their university to ensure students have a firm foundation in the topic since AP courses may vary greatly from school to school and district to district even though there is a prescribed curriculum to teach.
Many gifted students say that AP courses are not a challenge; they merely require them to memorize endless information in order to pass the AP exam. Higher order thinking is often not required to pass the exam. This can be problematic for gifted teens and parents, especially when high school administrators state that they have an excellent secondary gifted program, when in actuality all the school offers is AP courses.
Second semester begins in a month. In high schools across the state and country AP courses will resume and the push toward the AP exam in the spring will continue. Students will select courses for next academic year and AP courses will be offered.
Take a look around and see what other opportunities exist for your gifted high school student. Many schools are taking part in Dual Credit programs where students take actual college classes while in high school and receive real college credit that often transfers, unlike AP courses where students receive an exam grade but no college credit. These Dual Credit courses may be on a college campus or online. Check with the high school guidance department or university to see if they offer Dual Credit courses. Another program is the WI Youth Options Program. This is a program where certain high school juniors and seniors may take classes at DPI approved colleges and universities. The DPI website is: http://youthoptions.dpi.wi.gov. Be aware that not all districts offer the Youth Options Program.
Investigate what your school and district have to offer. If your student needs more than AP courses can provide, look at other options. Advocate for appropriate gifted programming at the high school level so the district meets the needs of gifted students beyond AP course offerings. Gifted high school students need appropriate services to grow and develop their unique skills and prepare for their future. Help them advocate for what they need rather than trying to fit into a system others tell them meets their needs.
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